Friday, April 27, 2018

Prairie Nurse- Factory Theatre

Prairie Nurse is classic Canadiana immigrant awareness dramaturgy, replete with cringeworthy jokes addressing one man's difficulty with identifying colours and Filipina women in a single stroke, revealing glimpses of a kind of comedy that lays bare the workings of racial and ethnic identity as it clashes romantically with a tall white lab technician more interested romance, hockey, and Beatles songs than taking care of his patients.
Under the direction of Sue Miner, there are fine moments of physical and scripted comedy throughout that frequently fall into such broad comic strokes that it can become a little awkward. Like the old joke about minimalism, it's fine if it's not overdone - broad comedy is great, but there are times when it needs to be  a touch understated. These moments mostly occur when the script allows for too much silliness in the place of the issues at hand. Coming in at well over two hours, with one intermission, the play could use some tightening up script-wise, eliminating some of the first act physicality that does not always work.

Janelle Hanna's endearing candy striper (Patsy) has a fine control over much of the physical and emotional comedy at hand, and yet has too many moments of jittery wandering that loses some of its comic appeal through the sheer repetition of somewhat bewildering manic motion.  Catherine Fitch, as the head nurse, is superb, and never lapses into any form of excess as she moves her character, form start to finish, through a finely tuned stock role as the almost Carol Burnett like frantic and frustrated matriarch in charge of a stable of hapless creatures.
Layne Coleman stands out in a supporting role as a kindly caretaker of the women he finds being shuffled through mistaken identity plot lines, and handles the somewhat over the top gun-toting moments with great simplicity and finesse. Mark Crawford as Dr. Miles MacGregor has a powerful presence onstage due to his intense stature, and finds wonderful moments of comedy here and there, yet has difficulty with some of the more awkward dialogic moments that give his character the wrong kind of haplessness and render him a somewhat gangly, lost character in search of a play he seems to have strayed from.

Matt Shaw's Wilf, the lovelorn technician, has similar problems, and yet shares the fine comic moments that MacGregor discovers though his own impressive height as he skillfully moves around the stage in a sweet engaging manner, and delivers his romantic and hockey affiliations with a great comic enthusiasm that gives his character warmth and a kind of gleeful appeal.
The mistaken identity plot line gives the ensemble plenty of opportunity to utilize their skill for effective grimace and commentary that causes uproarious laughter throughout. The actual device, however, inspired by actual events in the playwright's life, seems a little implausible as time passes. If the play were 30 minutes shorter one might find it easier to accept the comic strategy. The racialized element that causes the confusion, however, and the two women playing the immigrant nurses (who do not look alike) create awkwardness and implausibility that could use some subtle re-writing in order to make the script operate with slightly less bewildering moments. Not to suggest that this kinds of identity confusion does not occur, and the playwright successfully utilizes resistant narrative device to show that the two immigrant nurses can also play into the kind of "they all look alike" trope when they regard specific 'Canadian' physicality and speech patterns. But some fine tuning could illustrate  this in a more layered way. Marie Beath Badian has a fine sense of detailed comic device that could be honed further in order to add a bit more substance to the drama and the comedy at hand.

Belinda Corpuz as Purificacion "Puring" Saberon and Isabel Kanaan as Indepencia "Penny" Uy provide a wonderful form of class clash as they appear, from beginning to end, to represent two women from very different social backgrounds - one socially and emotionally primed for success and romance in an urban environment, and one hell bent upon honouring and remaining loyal to the small town Saskatchewan hospital she has been assigned to. Penny's physicality begins as a slightly awkward pose and gradually becomes a less frozen and more strategically measured gait, while Puring's casual and endearing gratitude, and her more comfortable manner of walking to and fro in big rubber reinforced winter boots give her a less domineering quality.

Anna Treusch (costumes) and Jung-Hye Kim (set design) give the stage environment  a crisp, nostalgic, sitcom-like atmosphere that could work well within a television framework that developed the plot further and began to investigate comically the many issues involved. All in all, the evening is vastly entertaining and at times thought provoking as comedy meets a form of Canadian immigrant experience that has marked our national narrative for a very long time.


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