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October 19, 2010

Theater Review: SLaM Misses Goal

Sota-hockey I wanted to like SLaM: The Hockey Rock Opera, I really did. As someone who is often caught without a rhyme while making up goofy songs on the fly with my boyfriend, I loved creator Lauren Walker's boldness: She actually recorded the ditties she made up with her boyfriend while traveling through Europe and turned them into a full-length musical, which runs through next weekend at Montpelier's City Hall Arts Center.

There's probably a reason most of us don't get that far. 

The story is charming: Silky LaMouche (Micheal Henderson) is a 38-year-old hockey player living in Canada, playing for a farm team, dreaming of the big leagues and pining for his artist girlfriend, Steamy (Taryn Noelle). She's living in New York City, painting, strumming sad ballads on her guitar, enduring angry tirades from her landlord, and drowning in rejection letters from art galleries.

When we first see Silky, it's on the ice — er, plastic polymer floor. It's awesome that the actors really skate on stage. They're all decked out in hockey gear and they pass around a real puck, which they slap out into the aisles. But the rink is so small it makes the actors look like hulking beasts teetering on a miniature air-hockey table. 

Which could be hilarious, if the actors were in on the joke. Unfortunately, they don't appear to be.

Anyway, Silky wants to play in a professional league and to find the father he's never met. We find out (in a song, of course) that his mother, on her deathbed, has revealed his father is still alive somewhere in Europe. So, that's where he goes, and invites Steamy to join him on the months-long camping trip that will end, along with the first act, in the couple breaking up.

There are some adorable moments. Between the first and second scenes, for example, an actor pushing a broom zigzags the stage methodically, a light blinking on top of his hardhat, the word Zamboni printed on the back of his striped shirt. And when the couple first arrives in Europe, they're greeted at the border by a chorus line of lab-coat-wearing immigration officials, stamping visas while singing their regulations and restrictions in a robotic monotone. 

But not much really happens in the first act. The songs—jazzy little numbers accompanied by a four-piece band—are almost all internal monologue: Silky and Steamy are giddy and in love ("Making love in the morning, four times before breakfast"), then they buy a camper from an Austrian biddy ("Wohnwagon, Wohnwagon"), then Steamy starts to lament that she still hasn't made it as an artist ("Why can't they see what's burning inside me?"). Then they get really tired ("Lord, I'm so tired!") and, more than an hour later, they decide to go their separate ways. 

The second act has a bit more action, as the two lovers go out to find themselves before reuniting. Steamy trades in her old figure skates for some hockey gear and plays around with a stick on the ice. In another fun number with the immigration officers, she convinces one labcoated bureaucrat to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. Silky tries out for a hockey team in Slovakia and meets a colorful Scottish player who, he sings, becomes the Mark Messier to Silky's Wayne Gretzky. And then—spoiler alert—he finds his dad. 

Taryn Noelle as Steamy, who also choreographed the show, has a beautiful, sultry voice and dances like she means it. Unfortunately, by comparison everyone else seems drained of energy. Except maybe Christopher Hart, who plays a delightfully hammy Archie Burrie, the Scottish hockey player we first see in a kilt, with an animal pelt of some sort safety-pinned across his chest. 

There is one scene near the beginning of the first act, in which Silky and Steamy share the stage, singing to each other a cappella about leaving on their trip together. For a moment, it sounds just the way it must have to Walker and her partner as they crooned to each other on the road. It's a lovely glimpse into the headiness they must have felt as two young lovers looking for a home abroad.

Anyone who's been in love knows that feeling: It's the kind that makes you do crazy things, such as turn your repertoire of sweet, in-jokey songs into a full-fledged musical.

Too bad there weren't more moments in SLaM like it. 

Photo, courtesy of Lauren Walker: Taryn Noelle and Micheal Henderson



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