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Loose Change: 'O Little Town of Bettmanhem,' a review

One of the true joys of the holiday season – besides random snowball attacks on unsuspecting postal workers – is the annual National Hockey League Christmas Pageant.

This event has been taking place ever since Conn Smythe realized he could creatively circumvent labor laws with his indentured workforce.

It is put on annually by the NHL Repertory Theatre Company and is loosely based on the story of this couple (Marian and Joseph) who are too cheap to pay for proper medical care or even a passable motel room and are forced to have the delivery of their baby in a musty old barn, surrounded by curious four-legged creatures, various poultry and some very determined paparazzi.

The story itself seems unspectacular until you realize this is no average kid being born here. He is said to be the King of Kings – an obvious ode to Marcel Dionne, one would think. In addition, this kid possesses a lethal slapshot and is said to play with “a real nasty streak.”

The kid - named Jeff - attracts the interest of three scouts who, for some reason, happen to be wandering the desert when they are summoned by what they describe as “a bright light in the North Sky, kind of like those new BMW halogen headlights, but sort of different.”

These scouts follow the path to the kid’s barn and attempt to sign the youngster to an entry-level, one-way contract. Of course, this kid is only some three hours old when they first meet him and not eligible for legal representation for another 16 years, so the trio proceeds to shower the kid with gifts – basically some perfume, a spice rack and a slightly-used X-Box.

The parents must decide whether to let their child enter Junior A at such an awkwardly-early age or change his first diaper and decide a little later.

The pageant is directed by the legendary Scotty Bowman, who has been under severe criticism for what critics charge as “plagiarizing the story of all stories.”

Bowman denies all the accusations.

“Do you see any camels? I don’t see any camels,” Bowman says tersely.

All controversy aside, director Bowman has done a masterful job creating a story so real and so compelling there is early Tony buzz (editor’s note: you of course realize Oscars are for films, Tonys are for plays but, then again, who watches the Tony Awards, anyway, besides perky, overly-exuberant women and men who moisturize way too much, but I digress).

The acting is impressive with standout performances by Brian Burke as the belligerent old Inn keeper; Alan Thicke as emotionally-flaccid Joseph and Sean Avery as an ass. Of particular note is the interesting decision to cast Martin St-Louis as Baby Jeff.

“He’s the only one who fit in the crib,” Bowman explains.

It’s difficult to not fall in love with this little production. You feel for the family’s pain and for their struggle and for their painful struggle.

Who hasn’t had straw carelessly wedged in his sandals? Who hasn’t journeyed hundreds of miles, directed only by a whim, a beacon in the sky and a heavenly apparition that may or may not be alcohol-induced? And who hasn’t faced a gut-wrenching, life-changing decision surrounded by goats?

The story is so real. The acting is so vivid. The admission is so free.

If you only see one National Hockey League production this year, see this one! (Their Easter performance – Guess Who’s Back? – frankly, sucks.)

The preceding was purely fictional and meant for entertainment purposes only. By entertainment, we mean we hope you laughed while reading it, framing it, or burning it. Any similarities between this and actual events is strictly coincidental and frankly, dumb luck. Remember to remind your lawyer about the made-up part, OK?

Loose Change will return Jan. 1.

Charlie Teljeur, creator of THN's hockeysockpuppettheatre, brings you Loose Change every Thursday only on thehockeynews.com. Subscribe to The Hockey News today to have Charlie's cartoon delivered to you in each issue.

Want to talk to Charlie about love, life, or Loose Change? Email him at charlieteljeur@hotmail.com

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