An Appreciation of Playwright Mark Crawford

by Lynn on October 7, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

While Mark Crawford is an actor and playwright, I’m focusing on his playwriting hat for this appreciation.

Time got away from me and I wasn’t able to review The New Canadian Curling Club before it closed recently after an extended run at the Blyth Festival and also Bed and Breakfast a few weeks ago, also after an extended run at Soulpepper in Toronto.

So here is an appreciation of the playwright, both plays and the productions.

While Mark Crawford writes entertaining, funny plays they are deceptive because at their center is a serious message. He doesn’t bash you over the head with the message. He envelopes the message in humour, human foibles, quirkiness, and situations with which we can all identify.

In The New Canadian Curling Club a group of people are brought together to learn how to curl who would never have thought of it before.  A do-gooder (who we never see because she had a fall and can’t do the class) of this small, unnamed Ontario town, wants to help some newly arrived immigrants fit in.  And so she has urged many of them to show up to learn how to curl. Mike Chang is a medical student from China. Charmaine Bailey is from Jamaica but has lived in Canada for years. She’s a manager of a Tim Horton’s franchise. Anoopjeet Singh is from India and has lived in Canada with his wife and two sons plus extended family for a few years. He also works at Charmaine’s franchise and is desperate to be made assistant-manager. Fatima Al-Sayeed is newly arrived from Syria with her parents but frets about her brother who is still in Syria. She is constantly texting him.

Teaching them (reluctantly) the rules of the game of curling is Stuart MacPhail the do-gooder’s ex-husband. He is a bitter, disappointed man. His marriage has failed and many other relationships have failed too. He is also a racist. One does think of Archie Bunker but without the anger. Stuart is off-handed and insensitive and is aghast when he’s faced with his inappropriate comments. To complicate matters Mike Chang is in love with Stuart’s daughter (both are studying to be doctors) and wants to make points with his future father-in-law.

The whole production was directed with skill and sensitivity by Miles Potter. An authentic-looking curling surface was created by Steve Lucas. We were urged not to touch it because they worked hard to make it look like ice etc.

Coupled with Mark Crawford’s very funny script which is full of quips, pithy comments and odd turns of phrase, is the physical humour of people who have never been on ice before, trying to navigate walking even a few steps.

But at its core The New Canadian Curling Club is about people going through a hard time, trying to fit in, cope and deal with the pressures of living in Canada. Crawford conveys the loneliness and uncertainty when things are not going well; the tenacity of the immigrants who want to come here; the optimism to make it work, the wit, perception and decency. And yes even Stuart manages to become a bit better. Crawford doesn’t give his play a sentimental ending but it’s a true one and well earned.

Bed and Breakfast had an extended run at Soulpepper and closed in August. Again, the banter is smart, funny, barbed at times and even silly at others. But for all its gentleness Bed and Breakfast is about Brett and Drew, two gay men, trying to run a bed and breakfast in a small town that might not take too kindly to a couple who happen to be gay.

Brett had a television show about decorating. He inherited his aunt’s large house in a small Ontario town. Brett spent summers in that house with his adored aunt and was hesitant to let it go. His partner Drew worked in the hotel business, trouble shooting and almost never getting credit for it. When a promotion passed him by Drew decided to move with Brett to the small town, renovate the inherited house and change it into a bed and breakfast that both Brett and Drew would run.

Brett and Drew moved to the small town. They began extensive renovations of the house and got to know the townsfolk. Both men were curious, gracious, funny and accommodating. They thought they were welcome there. Then they came home one night and found “Faggot go home” written large on the outside of their house. Both men were stunned and shaken. They realize there were deep hidden resentments in the town in some quarters. Others tried to calm them of their concerns. It worked out eventually after a rocky bit of time.

Some cynics have said that Bed and Breakfast is about privileged white men trying to change direction in their lives, so it’s not such a big deal being, what with their whiteness and privilege and all. Baloney.

The audience reading “Faggot go home” and the characters reading it is as shocking and frightening as it was for David Collins (an actor of colour) going to his parked car in Stratford, finding a note on his windshield and reading “Hail (sic) Hitler.”  There is no difference. I thought of David Collins and his recent ordeal reading that note, when I read “Faggot go home” in the theatre for Bed and Breakfast.

 Playwright Mark Crawford has created another gently funny play in Bed and Breakfast about quirky characters in odd situations, doing the best they can. Brett and Drew are surprised by their neighbours and so are we as the two find more and more support. Again, Crawford writes about a serious subject enveloped in humour. But the sobering message is clear.

It struck a chord with Soulpepper audiences when the production did so well it had to be held over. Director Ann-Marie Kerr directed with her usual energetic, brimming humour. Alexandra Lord’s set was on two levels which gave Kerr the added advantage of ramping up the speed of the two characters negotiating getting from one location to another, thus ramping up the humour. Both Gregory Prest and Paolo Santalucia played multiple characters besides Brett and Drew respectively. As Brett, Gregory Prest was the more anxious of the couple, fretting about fixtures, renovations and a lot of other things. As Drew, Paolo Santalucia was the more reasoned of the couple, the more pragmatic, after all he was a problem solver in the thorny hotel business because his thorny issues were with people. Together both actors created seamless characters, each distinct with idiosyncrasies both physical and personality-wise. The combination of a gifted writer with something to say; an equally gifted, fearless director and two talented actors created a compelling, very funny play.

Both The New Canadian Curling Club and Bed and Breakfast are set to have a multiple productions across the country. Look out for one or both productions near you.

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