Hamilton’s Theatre Aquarius kicks off the new year with an award-winning play which retells the remarkable, turbulent story of NHL hockey great Theo Fleury, a player stalked by dark demons which shattered his career.
Fleury played over one-thousand games and scored over a thousand points between 1989 and 2003. He won the Stanley Cup in his rookie year with the Calgary Flames. He won an Olympic gold medal with Team Canada in 2002. At 5-feet 6-inches tall and weighing 180 pounds. Fleury, one of the smallest players, made up for his size with a scrappy, tenacious style that led to lots of scoring opportunities, and lots of fights. He was driven by a frantic inward fire that flared into an addiction to drugs and alcohol, and a squandering of his profession hockey fortune.
With his hockey career demolished, Fleury fought an off-the-ice battle with his inner villains who materialized from memories of the sexual abuse endured at the hands of Western Hockey League coach Graham James. Fleury, and other former minor league players, eventually filed criminal complaints against James, who went to jail for two years.
This one man show (adapted from Fleury’s 2009 autobiography), headlines Shaun Smyth who plays the entire show on skates (two hours ten minutes on plastic ice) and is as impressive on blades as on his acting talents. From enthusiastic young player to adult, tormented by phsycological ghouls, Smyth performs with understated deftness. Fans cheered Fleury’s on ice accomplishments, while Smyth lays bare the player’s dark side, stirring audience emotions. The actor scores without overplaying the damaged hockey player. There’s theatricality here, after all, hockey (acknowledged as Canada’s game), is a form of theatre. This piece entertains as well as educates.
Out of bleakness came restoration. Currently, Fleury has a career as a motivational speaker with the objective his story will encourage those seeking help to lift the veil of silence about sexual abuse.
The Theatre Aquarius production is onstage at Hamilton’s Dofasco Centre for the Arts.