A great play usually described something Manitoba-born hockey star Theo Fleury did on the ice during his illustrious 15-year career. Will a bio-drama about his tempestuous life earn the same compliment?
That will be answered next February when Playing With Fire: The Theo Fleury Story opens at Prairie Theatre Exchange, it was announced Thursday.
In unveiling PTE's 42nd season and his 12th, artistic director Bob Metcalfe said that including Playing With Fire in the playbill was a no-brainer.
"It's about a Métis guy from Russell who played for the Winnipeg Warriors," says Metcalfe. "It's about as hometown as you can get."
Playing With Fire is based on Fleury's bestselling 2009 biography, co-written by Kirstie McLellan Day, that candidly chronicles the scrappy five-foot-six winger's unlikely rise to National Hockey League all-star and his breathtaking fall in a booze- and cocaine-fuelled spiral. It also reveals the abuse Fleury suffered at the hands of his junior coach, Graham James.
The one-man stage version premièred at Alberta Theatre Projects in 2012. Although it won several Calgary theatre awards, it has not been produced since. PTE and Edmonton's Citadel Theatre are co-producing Playing With Fire, which runs here Feb. 25-March 15, 2015. The production will again feature original performer Shaun Smyth -- who skates throughout the whole show in full hockey gear on an onstage rink -- and director, former Winnipegger Ron Jenkins.
"It's about so much more than the Graham James stuff. It's about this amazing guy who overcame so much. He shouldn't have made it to the NHL, never mind survive everything else that life threw at him," says Metcalfe.
The 2014-15 season also includes a new work by PTE favourite Daniel MacIvor and an appearance by Doreen Brownstone, Winnipeg's oldest working professional actor, who will be 92 when she takes to the stage as Aunt Grace in Vigil, Nov. 19-Dec. 7.
"I never expect anything, so this is a lovely surprise," says Brownstone. "It's a wonderful play and I get to do it lying in bed. The only thing is that I mustn't fall asleep."
Last June at the Mayor's Luncheon, the actress, who performed in the first Manitoba Theatre Centre production in 1958, was the recipient of the Winnipeg Arts Council's lifetime-achievement award. In her acceptance speech she gently chided Metcalfe and his RMTC colleague Steven Schipper for not giving her enough work.
"I was half joking and I was half serious," she says.
Metcalfe took up the challenge by programming a revival of Vigil, Morris Panych's 1995 dark comedy, which Brownstone previously performed in 1997. She will portray the bedridden aunt visited by her misfit nephew.
"It was a great opportunity to see Doreen onstage again in a play more resonant now than when it was written," Metcalfe says.
MacIvor will open the PTE season for the second consecutive season, this time with a new piece called Small Things (Oct. 15-Nov. 2). His comedic drama brings together an urban woman named Patricia who moves to a small town and hires a local, Birdy, as a home-care worker. The relationship becomes strained when Patricia takes an interest in Birdy's daughter.
This is his fifth play staged by PTE and MacIvor says he is comfortable with the PTE audience.
"They are always game and open," he says. "I'm not dissing Toronto, but my friend in Montreal calls Toronto 'the city where they welcome you with folded arms.'"
Also on the bill is Life, Death and the Blues (Jan. 21-Feb. 8, 2015), an autobiographical, multimedia theatre concert about the blues. Its creator is Toronto actor Raoul Bhaneja, who enjoys a parallel music career as the frontman of the band the Big Time.
Rounding out the schedule is a British-made spoof of The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous novel. The game is afoot April 8-26, 2015 and a three-person cast will be on the hunt for clues.
The holiday children's show will be Munsch Upon a Time.