A promotional photo for "Islander" a theater production written by...

A promotional photo for "Islander" a theater production written by Liza Birkenmeier and directed by Katie Brook, playing at the HERE Arts Center in Soho through Saturday. Credit: Maria Baranova

Remember 2018, Islanders fans? It was only three years ago, but it seems like a distant epoch now.

That was a world in which the team was captained by John Tavares and led off the ice by Garth Snow and Doug Weight, played many of its home games at Barclays Center, was a defensive wreck and missed the playoffs.

So perhaps fans living in a state of Lou Lamoriello / Barry Trotz bliss will not be eager to revisit those days. But in this case, the message is larger and more nuanced than mere hockey.

The occasion is a theater production called "Islander," written by Liza Birkenmeier and directed by Katie Brook, playing at the HERE Arts Center in Soho through Saturday.

Worlds collide.

A promotional photo for "Islander" a theater production written by Liza...

A promotional photo for "Islander" a theater production written by Liza Birkenmeier and directed by Katie Brook, playing at the HERE Arts Center in Soho through Saturday. Credit: Photo provided.

As the lead actor, David Gould, who plays the unnamed "Man," put it, "It’s a really interesting Venn diagram between hockey fans and downtown theater fans."

That cultural intersection is a sliver, but a noticeable one. "We’ve had them in, and they’re great," Gould said. "They are my favorite audience. They wear jerseys. They’re really into it."

He added, "I can tell that they’re getting jokes and laughing at things that no one else is laughing at, because either they’re an Islanders fan and they went through this whole thing with the team and are here for catharsis to try and get over it, or some of them, I think, are Rangers fans who are just here to watch the Islanders suffer."

While there are funny lines, the show has serious points to make, through the character’s fandom, about white masculinity.

Birkenmeier uses a clever device to get there, creating an entire script out of things actually said about the team that season through live commentary, podcast discussions, player interviews and the like.

Gould’s character is talking about himself — an aggrieved, put-upon, at times pathetic character — but using words initially intended to be about the Islanders.

Why the Islanders? Brook is from Toronto, Birkenmeier from St. Louis and Gould from Albany, so there is no local connection. But all three are hockey fans.

Birkenmeier said the idea was to use a local team to allow for attending games for research, ideally one with an underdog reputation. (Remember, this was pre-Lamoriello/Trotz.)

And Birkenmeier comes from a family of Blues fans, with a brother, Robert, who played youth hockey with the Islanders’ Scott Mayfield and the Lightning’s Pat Maroon.

So she knows the sport. "It’s a big dignity culture in hockey," she said. "It’s not only not frowned upon to go punch the guy in the face who messes with your goalie, it’s like that is the dignified thing to do."

One theme running through the show is the character’s obsession with the Islanders re-signing Tavares, and his reaction to the captain eventually leaving Long Island.

Brook and Gould got a firsthand taste of those emotions when they attended Tavares’ first game as a Maple Leaf at Nassau Coliseum in February 2019.

"I had never been in an angrier room," Gould said. "The emotions were so raw."

He recalled a fan screaming at Tavares from the other side of the penalty-box glass. "He was red in the face, crying, just absolutely livid," Gould said. "Some of that text made it into the show."

The piece originally was set to premiere in March 2020 before being delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. That was two Islanders' runs to the NHL semifinals ago.

Birkenmeier considered updating the play to reflect that and certainly would have done so had the Islanders won a Stanley Cup.

By Game 7 of last season’s semifinals against Tampa Bay, she and Gould were texting one another during the action because they had gotten caught up in the team’s fortunes.

Writer Liza Birkenmeier and  director Katie_Brook of the play "Islander."

Writer Liza Birkenmeier and  director Katie_Brook of the play "Islander." Credit: Danny Bristoll

Birkenmeier said when the play initially was being formulated, during the #MeToo movement and the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearing of 2017 and ’18, it had a different feel than it does now.

In the pandemic era, she sees "the flailing of institutions around this fear of loss of power, especially in straight white masculinity."

As Birkenmeier noted, the concept is difficult to explain without actually seeing her work.

Gould put it this way: "This is a bunch of guys, talking about another bunch of guys. It’s commenters talking about the team.

"What I find so interesting about it is when you put that all in one man, one body and one voice, you realize that how men talk about sports is, for many — some family members of mine included — it’s how they talk about their feelings. They don’t have another language for that."

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