NEWS

Theo Fleury's story moves from the ice to the stage

05/06/2012 06:43 EDT | Updated 07/06/2012 05:12 EDT

Theoren Fleury has led a very public life — from his days in the NHL to the high-profile sexual assault case against his former hockey coach.

His best-selling autobiography, Playing with Fire, detailed the highs and lows of his life and now a Calgary theatre company has taken that story to the stage.

The Alberta Theatre Projects play opened for previews May 1, with opening night showcased on May 4. It's a story about beating the odds, bringing together two things Canadians treasure: hockey and art.

Actor Shaun Smyth portrays Fleury in the one-man play. He tells the story from a small hockey rink with synthetic ice.

"It's a very present, alive, real play that's happening right now,” said Smyth.

On the ice, Fleury was a small hockey player with big dreams. He made those dreams come true, and had a successful NHL career, but off the ice he was struggling.

Fleury's story empowers other abuse victims

In 2009, Fleury revealed he had been sexually abused by his former hockey coach Graham James.

The case wound its way through the courts, and James was handed a two-year sentence in March, which he is now appealing.

When Fleury went public with his story it sent an important message — that it's OK to talk about sexual abuse.

"You're so afraid that, you know, if I tell somebody what's going to happen to my hockey career?" said Fleury in a previous interview.

People who work with sex abuse victims say reading about Fleury's struggles in his book or watching the play enforces the message that abuse victims should share their stories.

“It's a difficult thing to talk about,” said Jenny Ofrim, program manager at Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse.

“Lots of people don't have the language to talk about it. To see somebody the community does look up to come out and address these issues gives other people the courage and empowers them to do so as well.”

'Straight and truthful — the way he is.'

In the play, those dark days are handled carefully.

"In the book it's very cold, and very succinct, and very flat and straight and truthful — the way he is. And that's what we wanted to try to replicate here,” said play director Ron Jenkins.

Jenkins says Fleury has been supportive of the show, even attending some of the early rehearsals.

Playing with Fire runs for three weeks in Calgary.

As of yet, there are no plans to put the show on the road, but the cast and crew hope to share their version of Fleury's story with the rest of the country and beyond.

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