Review: On ‘The Islander’, Puck Stops Here

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The 2017 season did not start off badly. The New York Islanders, a National Hockey League team with a new coach and a new berth at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, may have hit goal a lot, but they still won most of their games. A few months later, in December, everything started to go wrong. Then it went even more wrong. The defense fell apart. The team missed the playoffs. Islanders captain and star player John Tavares sets out for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The fans revolted.

Director Katie Brook and playwright Liza Birkenmeier, both hockey fans, scraped some of that nasty ice into “Islander” at Here Arts Center, verbatim. offered by Tele-Violet and supported by New Georges, the game takes a commentary from the season and puts it in the mouth of an aggressive mean man with a beard, sweatpants named Man (David Gould). (Sources not listed, but Man’s language suggests livestream commentary, post-game interviews, and fan forums.)

Additional text is from renowned academic and men’s rights activist Jordan Peterson. Imagine a snow cone flavored with part obsession, part self-justification, part masculine vulnerability, self-pity, and sweat, and you’re mostly there.

Brook and Birkenmeier (“Dr. Ride’s American Beach House”) deal with questions of identity, identity, and form. They structured “The Islander” a bit like a game. It starts with the national anthem and pauses for a halftime dance break. A bare stage covered with rubber tiles represents the track. (The set and lighting design is by Josh Smith.) But there is only one actor – and then towards the end, a second (Dick Toth) and a third (Aksel Latham-Mitchell, a child actor who also provides a drum solo). If you’re looking for the nail-biting narrative impetus of a proper game, look elsewhere. A cymbal beater is not an “Islander”.

Still, it explores some fascinating ideas, such as the bizarre ownership that fans feel for a team and its players—a level of mimetic engagement that theater rarely achieves, with the exception of Broadway musicals. No man is an Islander, but many men seem to consider themselves Islanders, strapped to their recliner and alone with their Wi-Fi. Fan forums and post-match briefings provide rare spaces in American life where men are actively encouraged to talk about their feelings. In these homosocial arenas, they admit their self-doubt, disappointment, and low self-esteem.

“I’m so arrogant,” Man says. “I was so lost in myself. I’m just as fed up with myself as you are.” (Less helpfully, these are also areas where some men would justify their mediocrity.) But the script—a cage of disconnected observations—has a way of flattening these ideas, putting them in Latham-Mitchell’s airbed. like it compresses. John Tavares happily goes out.

“The Islander” isn’t long, just 75 minutes, pretty much the same as a hockey game. But it feels longer because it offers little in terms of plot or character. The language of the commentary isn’t particularly interesting, but there are flames of figuration (“It bothers them as much as a beached whale”), a few quick neologisms (“Sneaky: Is that a word?”), and the occasional metaphorical melee. .

While Gould is a charmer – sure, inexhaustible, brave enough to dance with his shirt – there’s only so much an actor can do when he’s putting together disjointed fan-forum posts and meditations, but only as an overly concussed Marcus Aurelius can write: “He’s good. It’s not good anymore; it’s time to be great.”

Perhaps, like many NHL games, “The Islander” is better experienced through a highlight reel.

Islander
by September 4 at HERE, Manhattan; 212-647-0202, here.org. Working time: 1 hour 15 minutes.

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