by Lynn on July 21, 2023

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at the Capitol Theatre in Port Hope, Ont. Runs until July 30, 2023.

Written by Marie Beath Badian

Directed by Megan Watson

Set and costumes by Jackie Chau

Lighting by Jareth Li

Composer and sound by Jeff Newberry

Cast: Kryslyne-Mai Ancheta

Deborah Drakeford

Ellie Ellwand

David Ferry

Aaron MacPherson

Iain Stewart

Yunike Soedarmasto

The play is growing on me. Perhaps I’m looking at it with a more embracing view. In any case this is a funny, poignant production.

The Story. Marie Beath 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.

The play covers the culture shock both women experience when they arrive in Saskatchewan, as well as the efforts the Canadians have in being welcoming without showing their cultural ignorance. It makes for laughs on both sides.

The Production. Jackie Chau has designed a functional set of the hospital. A door stage right leads outside. Lockers are stage right; a kitchen with microwave and table and chairs is stage left, a door to the hospital is up center with a ramp down from it that accommodates one step up.

Director Megan Watson establishes the comedic tone immediately and never lets up with her pace, attention to detail and timing. Senior nurse, Marie Anne (Deborah Drakeford) pushes open the upstage door from the hospital section. A cigarette dangles from her mouth. The image is hilarious. Marie Anne is anxious.  Deborah Drakeford as Marie Anne does not hesitate to be loud, bossy, irritated or controlling. Frustration is her go to emotion—frustrated with her staff, the patients, the world and Drakeford does it with wonderful skill and humour.

The staff and employees of the hospital are all characters:  Wilf Klassen (Aaron MacPherson) is a star hockey goalie who is also a technician in the hospital. Wilf is a bit of a confused but earnest man as played by Aaron MacPherson.  Dr. Miles MacGreggor (Iain Stewart) would rather hunt and fish than tend to patients. While Iain Stewart plays Dr. Miles MacGreggor with enthusiasm, I did find his Scottish accent a bit thick and incomprehensible at times. Charlie, as played by David Ferry, is a sweet-natured, thoughtful man dispensing advice. He is a handyman-driver.  Patsy (Ellie Ellwand) is a seemingly flighty but really perceptive candy-striper. As played by Ellie Ellwand, Patsy has common sense, heart and honesty.

Mary-Anne, the head nurse, and Patsy the candy-striper put up a welcoming sign that uses both Tagalog (I believe it’s Tagalog, a language of the Philippines) and English. The excitement is high in welcoming the two nurses. The efforts to make them welcome and try and accommodate they are from another country is heart-warming.  They all gather to welcome Purificacion “Puring” Saberon (Yunike Soedarmasto) and Indepencia “Penny” Uy (Kryslyne-Mae Ancheta). Charlie has gone to pick them up at the airport.

It’s a new country for the two nurses and it is a rocky beginning. Puring is hysterical and crying and Penny is upset when they arrive.  On the ride from the airport Puring saw a sign that said: “Welcome to Tisdale, Land of Rape and Honey” and wondered what she had signed up for.  Mary-Anne told her ‘rape’ was a crop and not the other thing. Puring is overcome with emotion, passes out and when she revives, she looks in the face of Wilf Klassen and he looks in hers and it’s instant love.

In their own way the staff 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. Playwright Marie Beath Badian also has the same thoughts voiced by the two visiting nurses—they can’t tell the (white) staff apart. I love that equal opportunity blinkered assumption. When the programme says that the play is about confusion, they aren’t kidding. To reveal more would be a spoiler.

Penny, as well played by Kryslyne-Mai Ancheta, fancies herself an entitled, sophisticated women because she comes from Manila from a monied family. Penny lauds her privilege over Puring, who comes from a small village and is not as well off as Penny. Kryslyne-Mai Ancheta as Penny has a slight sneer that adds another touch of Penny’s haughty attitude that is so perfect for the character. But Penny has her own family issues. She loves a young man of whom her family does not approve.

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 Yunike Soedarmastro, coped with every kind of curve ball with style. Yunike Soedarmastro as Puring is a sweet, agreeable, very efficient and caring woman.  

Marie Beath Badian writes about the immigrant experience in Prairie Nurse. She writes about cultural stereotypes, prejudices, unintended insensitive blunders of language and cultural assumptions, and she does it with humour and grace. Her characters are generally kind, (well Penny could do with less arrogance, although she does appreciate Charlie’s generosity.) And the story is wonderful. It’s about being welcome in a new country, braving the unknown of the new country and through tenacity and generosity, making a go of it. I’m so glad I saw this production.  

The Capitol Theatre presents:

Plays until July 30, 2023.

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes approx. (1 intermission)

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