2012 Village of the Fringe Review: Charlie Sands: A Hockey Story review

Hello bald man, we're in the stands
It's a hockey play tonight
It tells the tale, with a thunderin' gale
Of the 1933 Toronto Maple Leafs.

Okay, so the song kind of comes off the rails on the last line. No matter, it probably would have been merely a superficial review anyways. Charlie: A hockey story is the...hockey story...of Charlie Sands, a checking offensive winger who broke into the NHL just in time for (at the time) the NHL's longest game and the Ace Bailey violence scandal.

Meanwhile, through song, storytelling, and (somewhat unwelcome) crowd participation stunts the actor/author, Jim Sands links his uncles involvement in Depression-era hockey with strife between him and his father (the Wednesday hockey game coincided with the debut of Star Trek, you see), linking it in with Shakespeare (and a common but not too likely story of the origin of the 'puck').

The play works best when Jim is retelling the stories of the 1930s-era games themselves. He paints a vivid picture about events that he never heard of or could have even seen on television, and through the eyes of rookie Charlie Sands we see a lot about the personalities and culture of the time. Jim's Foster Hewitt impersonation could use a bit of work, but whose couldn't? (Answer: Darren Dutchyshen) Names like Conn Smythe, Art Ross, and Eddie Shore are tossed around as if Sands is referring to some drinking buddies.

The personal parts of the play don't hold up quite as well, though the childhood stuff outside the classroom works better than the parts inside...and the telling of how he rediscovered hockey while busking for change in Vancouver during their horribly successful 1994 season was when the material started to run a little thin. At the end there's some attempt to link the Ace Bailey incident with Romeo and Juliet and modern conflicts about the role of violence in the game, and it may work for some but seemed a little too moralizing in a tale where men larger than life tortured their bodies for the game they loved and a nation loved them for it.

Final word: This hockey story, despite its flaws, is still the most fun you'll have with the Toronto Maple Leafs this century.