Calgary play set in hockey locker room explores masculinity

A hockey locker room may not be a place where you expect to see men and boys expressing their deepest feelings, but that’s what happens in Men Express Their Feelings, premiering at Downstage Theatre on Friday.

Men Express Their Feelings opens Friday at Downstage Theatre

Sunny Drake is the playwright behind the world premier of "Men Express Their Feelings," opening at Downstage Theatre on Friday. (Ellis Choe/CBC)

A hockey locker room may not be a place where you expect to see men and boys expressing their deepest feelings, but that's what will be happening in a new play at Downstage Theatre next week.

The company is presenting the world premier of Men Express Their Feelings, written by Toronto playwright, Sunny Drake.

"I think a lot of men are really starting to wake up to the costs of a particular, kind of  strict, sort of masculinity," Drake told the The Homestretch

In the play, two hockey dads and their two 17-year-old sons get into a brawl, which leads to the league sentencing them to a sharing circle in the hockey dressing room.

The stakes are high. It's the last chance for the young players to get into juniors, and scouts will be coming to watch.

If the two can't sort it out, they're off the team. 

"I specifically picked a hockey play because my feelings about hockey are similarly complicated to my feelings about masculinity," he said.

"It's this game with strategy and skill and so many great things, and then also hockey culture itself can be really brutal. And in fact lethal, so it felt like sort of the perfect metaphor to explore masculinity as well."

Inspiration came from listening to a hockey fan

Drake, who grew up in Australia, said he's never played ice hockey, but coached and played field hockey.

He says the idea of the play came to him while listening to a Leaf's fan on the radio — who could barely put together a sentence about how he felt after a huge loss.

"I just really recognize that epic struggle to express an emotion and I think you know in some ways it could have been that he was searching for you know what, how did he feel," he said.

"But in other ways he might have been standing next to his mates who are all kind of watching him and maybe he didn't feel like it was he was allowed to have an emotion."

Drake said he chose to set the story there in the hockey dressing room since it's known as the "bastions of masculinity."

"I guess it's the dressing room as sort of this inner sanctum of masculinity, and where some of the most beautiful, amazing parts of masculinity play out, like the comradeship, the team vibe and support for each other," he said.

"And where some of also the deepest, most difficult things play out."

Importance of comedy 

Drake said he feels the time is right to try to delve into some of the difficult issues around masculinity is through humour. 

"This play really unpacks a lot of those things within hockey but also outside of hockey as well," he said.

"To me, the day we stop being able to laugh at ourselves is a very sad day. So you know I've found comedy is the best way to kind of be able to talk about some difficult things, but while having a laugh and a really fun night out as well."

The play Men Express Their Feelings opens at Big Secret Theatre on Friday.


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