Learning the Game - well played

She's learning the game

Dude, Learning the Game is awesome!  I was totally blown away by this play, which is beautifully written by Canadian playwright Janice Salkeld, and performed by Megan Leach with amazing energy and skill.

The Fringe tends to have an audience base which would think twice before seeing a play billed as “a story of perseverance for ALL AGES!” This would be a great shame, because Learning the Game is such a strong piece of theatre. I saw it at 5 pm on Friday with an audience size of about 20, but Leach performed as though we filled a rink, even bravely getting us to sing The Hockey Song as girls against the boys, and we were happy to oblige.

Learning the Game is about Lanni, a smart and smart-mouthed teen hockey player who has a learning disability. This could so easily be Movie-of-the-Week comes to theatre, where you find yourself smiling stiffly as you know you should care about this sort of thing even if it doesn’t affect someone in your family, and oh God, can I go home please? Instead, this is a sharply played script, directed with loving precision.  
Lanni throws her hockey bag on stage and enters singing “happy birthday”. Every moment has a purpose, and we later learn that she discovered in facing a formidable opponent on the ice, she could distract the player by singing “happy birthday”.

Lanni has had to be an expert defensive player in every aspect of her life. She unpacks her gear, and spends the show dressing for a game, while using each piece of equipment to enhance her story. She starts with her first year of school, and unwinds a tale of a great kid who tries to bluff her way through classes with charm and athletic energy so that teachers don’t catch on that she’s not catching on. Finally she is forced to succumb to testing with a special educator, which she names “Miss Beige”. Leach takes her beige leggings and uses them as a sock puppet to portray Lanni’s nemesis, and brings humour and pathos into a simple moment.

Lanni’s struggles and stories are interesting and heartbreaking, and never once is the narrative interrupted with a clinical diagnosis of her learning disability. This is such a refreshing piece of theatre. Well played indeed.

For more information and public reaction skate this way.

By Cathy Sostad