Review: In "Islander", the puck ends here

The 2017 season has not started too badly. The New York Islanders, a National Hockey League team with a new coach and a brand new spot ...


The 2017 season has not started too badly. The New York Islanders, a National Hockey League team with a new coach and a brand new spot at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, may have allowed a few too many shots on goal, but they still won most. of their matches. A few months later, in December, everything started to go wrong. Then it got worse. The defense collapses. The team missed the playoffs. Islanders captain and star player John Tavares has left for the Toronto Maple Leafs. The fans revolted.

Hockey fan director Katie Brook and playwright Liza Birkenmeier scratched some of that bad ice cream in “Islander,” a text-based play at the Here Arts Center. Presented by TV-Violet and supported by New Georges, the play borrows commentary from the season and puts them in the mouth of a bearded, sweatpants-clad and aggressively average dude called Man (David Gould). (Sources are not listed, but Man’s language suggests live commentary, post-match interviews, and fan forums.)

The additional text is taken from renowned scholar and human rights advocate Jordan Peterson. Imagine a snow cone part obsession, part self-righteousness, part male fragility, softened by self-pity and sweat, and most of you are there.

Brook and Birkenmeier (“Dr. Ride’s American Beach House”) are concerned with questions of identity, identification and form. They structured “Islander” a bit like a game. It starts with the national anthem and stops for a dance break at halftime. A bare stage, lined with rubber tiles, replaces the ice rink. (The set and lighting design are by Josh Smith.) But there’s only one player – 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 biting narrative propulsion of a proper game, look elsewhere. A buzzer drummer, “Islander” is not.

However, it probes some fascinating ideas, like the special ownership fans feel towards a team and its players – a level of mimetic engagement that the theater rarely achieves, with the exception of Broadway musicals. No man is an island, but many men, reclining and alone with their Wi-Fi, seem to consider themselves islanders. And fan forums and post-game debriefings provide the rare spaces in American life where men are actively encouraged to talk about their feelings. In these homosocial arenas, they confess their doubt, disappointment and feelings of low self-esteem.

“I’m very arrogant,” Man says. “I am very lost in myself. I’m as sick of myself as you are. (Less usefully, they are also spaces for some men to justify their mediocrity.) Jean Tavares deflates happily.

“Islander” is not long, only 75 minutes, about the same as a hockey game. But since it offers so little plot or character, it feels longer. The language of the commentary is not particularly interesting, although there are outbursts of figuration (“It makes them as uncomfortable as a stranded whale”), some catchy neologisms (“Sneakery: is it a word? “) And the occasional melee metaphor.

While Gould is a charmer – precise, inexhaustible, brave enough to dance without his shirt – there isn’t much an actor can do with string of fan forum posts and rambling meditations that only a Marcus can do. Extremely concussed Aurelius might write: “The enemy of the great. No more good; it’s time to be great.

Maybe “Islander,” like many NHL games, is best known via a highlight reel.

Islander
Until September 4 at HERE, Manhattan; 212-647-0202, Here.org. Duration: 1h15.

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