The Preston Rivulettes pave the way for women's hockey in Glory

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Glory | Western Canada Theatre and Alberta Theatre Projects | Gateway Theatre | April 4 – 13, 2019

A Chatelaine article from 1933 states that “Ice hockey is a game for which [women’s] soft, unyielding flesh is unsuited.” Helen Schwartz (Kate Dion-Richard), a member of the pioneering Preston Rivulettes, reads this quote in disbelief as she sits with her teammates. Glory is the true story of the Rivulettes fighting back against a society that didn’t think women should play hockey. We’ve come a long way since then, but, as the current lawsuit in US women’s soccer demonstrates, we have a long way to go to achieve gender equality in sports.

Schwartz is joined by her sister Marm (Advah Soudack), and their friends Hilda (Katie Ryerson) and Nellie Ranscombe (Morgan Yamada). After a successful softball season, they don’t want to stop playing together over the winter, and they decide to form a hockey team. Right away, they have hurdles to overcome: the men never want to give up the ice — so they can only practice early in the morning or late at night — and they have to beg the arena caretaker to be their coach (he reluctantly agrees after much persuading, and even he doesn’t think they should be playing hockey).

As the girls learn the basics of the game — skating, stick handling, passing, and shooting — they gracefully move around the stage in beautiful synchronized choreography created by playwright Tracy Power. Hilda dreams of playing in the NHL one day, but coach Herb Fach (Andrew Wheeler) brings her back down to Earth … Helen quits the team when she finds out she’s pregnant. The news should be happy, but she knows it means she has to give up doing the things she loves.

The girls end up winning some games, and before they know it they are the top Eastern team off to Edmonton to play for the Dominion Title against the top Western team. After more success it looks like they will have an opportunity to go on an exhibition tour to Europe and work towards women’s hockey making it into the Olympics. When World War II breaks out, all that changes.

The historical backdrop surrounding the Rivulettes is subtle and introduced through radio broadcasts and quoting from newspaper articles. References about it being “cheaper to hire a woman” at a factory show the deep-rooted inequality that they are up against. Audience members will likely cringe at the sexist commentary during games and in the papers such as, “Did your brother show you how to do that?” or referring to the women as “Hockey dolls” and lipsticked puck tossers.”

Other types of discrimination are also skillfully woven into the storyline including anti-semitism. There are also hints of a lesbian relationship between two of the team members, but it seems that neither acknowledges it out loud because they know being together is not an option.

The entire cast gave solid performances, with Katie Ryerson as Hilda standing out as the most authentic. Power’s choreography really brought the on-ice scenes to life, and the modular set by Narda McCarroll swiftly transformed from rink to locker room, to train car and back again. The music by Steve Charles amplified the energy of the gameplay and the tension of their struggles, but there were a couple of scenes where it was a bit too loud and overpowered the dialogue.

As the Rivulettes close the show with an earnest rendition of “O Canada,” the audience has an opportunity to reflect on how far women’s hockey has come since the 1930s, and how far we have to go to achieving true equality on and off the ice.

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