Downstage Theatre’s ‘Men Express Their Feelings’ feels forced

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The concept that fuels Men Express Their Feelings by Sunny Drake and presented with the generous support of Hit & Myth Productions is examining masculinity in a super charged setting: hockey. The play even pushes the concept further by having the characters have a feelings circle in a hockey dressing room. It sounds like the greatest set up but ultimately the play tries to do too much and tries to fit so many social issues in that it stretches itself too thin. Almost every scene feels forced and the play is full of stereotypes.

The play tells of teenage hockey players Raj Sharma (Ray Dhaliwal) and Brad Bacon (Brett Dahl) who play on the same team and are both talented in their positions of the team. Their fathers get in an altercation off the ice, and in order for their sons to play hockey again, they have the resolve their dispute, in the change room, with a feelings chart as their guide. Mr. Bacon (Nathan Pronyshyn) is closed off, aggressive and resolves most of his disputes with anger. Mr. Sharma (Richard Young) is a foil to Mr. Bacon, his self talk being about rising above. Their sons are both motivated by not letting their guards down and being ‘men.’

Dahl stepped up to play Brad and does a solid job. Sharma shows promise in his portrayal as Raj and is natural and even charming in his role. Pronyshyn’s portrayal of Mr. Bacon is worth watching and is quite balanced. Young stuggles a bit in his role, as Mr. Sharma is the character that is most fictionalized and not grounded in a realistic character arch.

In 90 minutes with no intermission, Drake has the men connect on emotional and sexual levels. They run through many issues, from racism and sexism to doing the housework. Raj and Brad go from acting like tough guys who happen to be teammates, to having a sexual encounter in the bathroom. It’s full and complicated and the men on stage most certainly do, express their feelings. But it all feels scripted and forced because the play tries to cover too many things and has the characters go through a full spectrum that is unrealistic. The play is missing moments of poignancy and vulnerability and skates on the surface of very real issues while pushing forward a narrative of stereotypes. Without audience buy in, the play doesn’t have full impact. Men Express Their Feelings does have moments of great humour and director Clare Preuss ensures that these sequences are highlighted. Jessie Potter’s light and sound design also bring out the humour and moments of levity.

This production of Sunny Drake’s Men Express Their Feelings is a world premiere and puts a talented cast on stage, but the script and production could use tightening up.

Downstage Theatre’s production of Men Express Their Feelings runs until March 15th. More information is available online.

Photo Credit: Katy Whitt Photography

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