by Lynn on April 27, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Factory Theatre, Mainspace, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Marie Beath Badian

Directed by Sue Miner

Set by Jung-Hye Kim

Costumes by Anna Treusch

Lighting by Jareth Li

Sound by Lion Smith

Cast: Layne Coleman

Belinda Corpuz

Mark Crawford

Catherine Finch

Janelle Hanna

Isabel Kanaan

Matt Shaw

A mildly amusing play given a broad, slapsticky production that would not be out of place in summer stock.

The Story. The play was written by Marie Beath Badian and was commissioned by the Blyth Festival for their 2013 season. Badian says Prairie Nurse is fictional but is based on real people, in particular her mother.

It’s about two Filipino nurses, Purificacion “Puring” Saberon and Indepencia “Penny” Uy, who came from the Philippines to Tisdale, Saskatchewan in the 1960s to work in a hospital, send money home and eventually bring some of their family to Canada.

Penny fancies herself an entitled, sophisticated women because she comes from Manila. Penny lauds her privilege over Puring, who is a sweet, agreeable, very efficient and caring woman who comes from a small village and is not as well off as Penny.

It’s a new country for both of them and it is a rocky beginning when they arrive at the hospital where they would work. On the ride from the airport Puring saw a sign that said: “Welcome to Tisdale, Land of Rape and Honey.” When she got to the hospital she was hysterical in tears with fear over the word “rape” until she is told it is a crop. She is overcome with emotion, passes out, is carried to a couch, and when she revives she looks in the face of Wilf Klassen and he looks in hers and it’s instant love.

The staff and employees of the hospital are all characters:

Marie Anne Lussier is an efficient, prickly head nurse who’s easily irritated at everybody because they don’t move fast enough to do her bidding and often there are sloppy in their work.  Wilf Klassen is a star hockey goalie who is also a technician in the hospital, and smitten with Puring and she with him.  Dr. Miles MacGreggor would rather hunt and fish than tend to patients. Charlie Govenlock is a sweet-natured, thoughtful man dispensing advice. He is a handyman-driver. He picked up Puring and Penny at the airport.  Patsy Hackett is a flighty volunteer.

In their own way they are all welcoming of the two nurses but sometimes they confuse who is Puring and who is Penny, playing up the (racist) stereotype that one can’t tell South Asians etc. apart. Wilf is the biggest offender here. While he was struck instantly with love for Puring, the running joke for the whole play is that he can’t tell her apart from Penny.

 The Production. I found everything about this enterprise underwhelming. Marie Beath Badian’s play is gentle in recollecting her mother’s immigrant experience where the sight of the word ‘rape’ in the Tisdale sign is the most anxiety Puring experienced. After that Puring, played with confidence and level-headedness by Belinda Corpuz, coped with every kind of curve ball with style. Penny, a wonderfully condescending Isabel Kanaan, just hated it there but had to stay for her own personal reasons

Badian’s script is loaded with turns of phrases that are supposed to be funny but that I found laboured with effort. And most of the effort goes into sustaining jokes that barely worked the first time. To have the whole play dependent on Wilf (Matt Shaw)  Dr. MacGreggor (Mark Crawford)  not being able to tell Puring from Penny, is an example.

Catherine Fitch has perfected prickly characters like Marie Anne Lussier. Fitch gives her a tight mouth and a scowling face as if everything she smells seems like fish gone off. The physicality of the character: clipped speech, small, determined steps in walking and irritated, is quite funny to behold. But again with Badian loading on Marie Anne’s invective, it too wears thin.

Sue Miner’s direction unfortunately plays on that summer-stock kind of play—lame jokes, over-extended effort to be funny, characters who seem types rather than credible people. Her direction is slapstick and often cringe worthy. For example it’s sort of funny once when everybody reports for work, crowding into the small vestibule at the door, wiping their feet for some reason and then negotiating around each other like some cramped ballet, but when it happens again and again, each time getting less and less funny. Allowing Janelle Hanna to play Patsy Hackett as an over excited twit to the extent that she does, just seems wrong for the character and the actress playing her.

Miner keeps the pace whizzing as Wilf rushes in the main door with his hockey gear, Dr. MacGreggor rushes in with his rifle and each charges through the door to the hospital proper but it seems like a lot of effort for nothing. Almost everyone is directed to overact or bellow lines. After a while I wanted to yell: “Enough Already!!”

Comment.  It speaks volumes that I did see this at the Blyth Festival where it played in 2013 and I can hardly remember it. In a certain way the Blyth Festival and many other summer theatres seems a better fit for Prairie Nurse than Factory Theatre. I thought programming the play for Factory just seemed an odd choice given the depth of some of the other challenging plays programmed there.

 I realize this production is a co-production with The Thousand Islands Playhouse in Gananoque this summer, which seems a more suitable theatre for it, but still strange that Factory is connected with such facile fare.

A Factory Theatre and Thousand Islands Playhouse co-production.

Opened: April 26, 2018.

Closes: May 13, 2018.

Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes, approx.


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