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.


Thursday, April 26, 2018


★★★★ “It’s viciously funny; Maybe change starts with plays like this.” – The Guardian

"A naked photo of Scarlett goes viral. Rumours spread across smartphones like wildfire and her reputation becomes toxic, threatening to shatter the clique of girls she has grown up with. But how long can Scarlett remain silent? And why isn’t it the same for boys? Girls Like That is an explosive new play that explores the evolution of feminist consciousness and modern female friendships in the wake of advancing technology."


Tarragon Theatre is no stranger to fine examples of ensemble work. The last show, Bunny, gave audiences a beautiful and intense example of a cast and crew working together to create a fully integrated vision of one woman’s relationship with a world that profoundly misunderstands and prejudges women’s sexuality. But nothing could prepare spectators for the ways in which an group of seven young women have worked together to bring to the stage a breakneck ensemble performance that exemplifies impeccable timing and a kind of dance music video effect throughout, breaking the conversation into a multivalent form of spoken word dialogue/monologic theatre that pushes the boundaries of playwriting toward a glorious spectacle of sight and sound.

Perhaps vaguely reminiscent of Caryl Churchill’sTop Girls, Evan Placey’s script replaces more naturalistic dialogue with seamless catcalls, cacophonies of lovelorn girlhood, and poignant monologues from specific 20th century historic periods that bring to the final moments a profound sense of how history forms and affects feminine gender and sexuality in disturbing and empowering ways. Under the direction of Esther Jun the cast is placed strategically and rigorously throughout Shannon Lea Doyle’s simple and effectively elegant steel grey institutional set that sends the action - and the uniformed ‘girls’ (among other historical costumes beautifully designed by Ming Wong) - into high relief as they act out formative moments in their education as the young women of St. Helens.
Placey’s lengthy narrative (one hour forty five minutes with no intermission) suffers slightly at times from a touch too much cacophony of frequently indistinguishable commentary, and could easily be shortened by 15 to 20 minutes without losing any of the essential information. Nevertheless, one is able to gain a striking, if not somewhat surface sense of each character as they move through troubling youthful times that both separates and unites them within their greatest adolescent struggles. Each performer displays an amazing sense of diverse characterization as they work together to portray that supremely difficult theatrical task - to show a sense of the individual and the group within a single moment.
The use of lip sync, both musical and spoken, is ingenious as it divides and illuminates the physical and emotional relationships between the absent males and the women they manipulate with their youth, beauty, and utter disregard for complex compassion. At one point a character exclaims, regarding male manipulative tendencies, that the young women are becoming more and more like the young men who have taken part in their distress and subsequent malevolent behaviour patterns. And yet, the playwright, in a perhaps somewhat convoluted manned, suggests that there may always be a way out - or - at the very least, a way to view these gender constructions and consider ways to re-imagine them in a more positive manner. 
Basically, a provocative photo of one of the young women, distributed online by dubious sources, creates a tension that rambles in complex ways throughout the consciousness of this collective group of young female students. A lone hunky young man who is never seen, but described in evocative detail, is joined by his invisible male cohorts within a misogynist cultural scheme that pits (6) girls against (1) girl, and effectively teases the audience with potential tragedy and mayhem. And yet, ultimately, GIRLS LIKE THAT becomes, by the end, an uplifting and bittersweet open ending in a time when tragic misogynist consciousness continues to wreak havoc.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018



Factory and Thousand Islands Playhouse co-production 

Love is blind in Saskatchewan – so blind in fact you can get confused with whom you are in love.  Prairie Nurse is riotous comedic farce of a different colour about two Filipino nurses who arrive in 1960s small-town Saskatchewan to work at a local hospital and are met by some curious locals who struggle to tell them apart.


With [FACTORY THEATRE'S] closing production landing on Mother’s Day, it’s beyond appropriate that Marie Beath Badian's mother inspired the play itself; where two Filipino nurses land in rural Saskatchewan and are constantly mistaken for one another. Marie’s mother was a nurse, though not by choice. Marie said her mother had an obligation as the oldest of sic children to help support her family. Marie had once asked her mother if she had the choice, what would she have become; she said she would be a chemist. 
When asked why audiences need to see Prairie Nurse, Marie Beath said If you have ever had health care in this country, it is 95% likely that at least one medical professional that you encountered was Filipino. There is a reason for that. This is a teeny-tiny sliver of Canadian history, told through the lens of a spicy but sweet mistaken-identity Romantic Comedy.” *

*Marie Beath Badian


Marie Beath Badian's favourite playwrights include from Anna Chatterton and Lisa Codrington. In her new play she creates addresses the experiences of Filipino nurses working in rural Saskatchewan. PRAIRIE NURSE, inspired in part by her mother's research visit to Saskatchewan in 2007, she conceived the play with a mistaken identity plot line in mind - a technique that she finds "inherently nostalgic." Infused with a desire to "* embrace that fully with romance" PRAIRIE NURSE speaks of a 
* "community of Filipino nurses across the country [that] is strong, vibrant and heroic."
* Marie Beath Radian

1/ What influenced your decision to use romantic comedy as a theatrical device? 

In 2007, I had been commissioned to write a play for the Blyth Festival. I knew I wanted to write a play inspired by my mother’s time in rural Saskatchewan in the late 60s but I wasn’t sure of the story. I brought my mother with me in 2007 to Saskatchewan to do research, and everyone we encountered who remembered her immediately asked “Where’s the other one?” I was tickled by the idea of a mistaken-identity comedy. The inspiration for the play is inherently nostalgic, so I wanted to embrace that fully with romance. 

2/ Do you have some favourite playwrights? 
Yes! Anna Chatterton and Lisa Codrington are two of my faves. 
3/ Could you describe the role of race in the play (if you feel this applies) - and without giving away any of the plot - can you share some of the issues the women characters deal with throughout the course of the play. 
I like to think that the play is a snapshot of a little-known piece of Canadiana. The late sixties and early seventies were the first wave of Filipino medical professionals in Canada, because it was the beginning of Universal Health Care. Filipino nurses and other trained professionals arrived by droves across the country to serve in both urban and rural communities. It was certainly isolating and challenging. But it was also a time of independence, adventure and a new kind of freedom. Those communities were curious and welcoming; they really needed the nurses and they made every effort to make them feel embraced when they arrived. 
4/ Prairie Nurse is such a great title; does the setting, rural Saskatchewan, relate to other parts of Canada (both rural and urban) and the presence of many Filipino nurses working across the country. Do you see the overall narrative of the play as something many Canadians can relate to and/or learn from? 
Thanks! I like the title too. 
I hope that the play resonates with many Canadians. I think that if you experience health care in Canada, then 8 times out of 10 I think you encounter a Filipino medical professional. I wanted to show the nurses are more than just their profession – they have different reasons for being in Canada, different stories, different dreams. 
I ask these questions partly because I have a family member who is from Cebu City and has worked as a nurse in Calgary for many years. Her professional struggles have been an influence on the ways in which I view some of the issues she, and many other women from the Philippines, encounter when working in Canada. 
The community of Filipino nurses across the country is strong, vibrant and heroic. 
4/ What do you hope audiences will take from the play - both as entertainment and as a significant social commentary? 

Yes, both would be a dreamy outcome. 


Saturday, April 7, 2018




photos by John Lauener

Opening with a pair of delightfully costumed clown'ish clad figures, performing choreography that is at once comic/melancholy and mime-like, the current re-mount of Bouchardanse's HISTOIRE D'AMOUR is an evocative and layered tribute to the complex strains of romantic love through the ages. 
Gorgeous projections throughout, ranging from a simple snowflake effect to complex textured backdrops that seem to glow and move elegantly with layered natural formations (original design by Ayelen Liberona, design remount by Matthew Maaskant) enhance the choreography, giving the setting a simultaneously spare and minimalist shape for the dancers to inhabit. 
Sylvie Bouchard and Brendan Wyatt provide silhouettes from behind simple screens and move outward into the space with a tightly conceived set of program entries that all perceive the essential bonding between lovers with great skill and a pas de deux like strength of reliability and passion.
Vincent Leblanc-Beaudoin was the actor/narrator/dance

The classic notion that love is frequently rendered sightless gives the performers the opportunity to don masks that accentuate the theatrical dependence upon another body that the narrative demands by its very nature - a nature constructed both socially and born integrally from the union of bodies in the throes of romantic unpredictability.
Vincent Leblanc-Beaudoin's role as narrator/dancer/actor has been developed beyond the original production, including him in more detailed choreographic moments, entwined sensually at times, and becoming a steamy interlocutor within the action at hand. 

His playful sense of vocal variation, from direct, masculine tones stabilized by a strong declamatory pose toward the audience, to moments of over the shoulder butt-wiggling and cheeky tones of voice, add to the varied degrees and modes of love depicted. Light humour and sultry passion create a through-line for choreographic and theatricalized excellence throughout the overall program.
The final audience interactive moments enthral as the duet creates a response to single words dilineating personal responses to first love written on cards given to the audience as they enter the space. Without revealing the actual words, Wyatt and Bouchard display the skilfully integrated dependence and independence that love relies upon, with varied movement that heightens the stakes and provides for a spontaneous, moving, frequently comical sense of choreographed emotion. The balletic couples with more free form dance/dramatic action, and paves the way for a wonderful sense of fulfilled and unfulfilled closure for the lovers at hand. 

Dramaturge/director Marie-Josee Chartier has allowed the performers to take the stage with a strong sense of filling a single uniform space with word, music and movement that interrogates all of the intricacies love torments and pleases us with. 

Cheryl Lalonde's costumes elegantly suggest the historically inclined movement of time, along with sound & music suggestive of a parade of various periods - from the Troubadours, to Shubert, Hollander, Thomas Ryder Payne and Eric Satie.

All of the choreographers have conspired to locate love in many periods, places and emotional terrains, from the opening melancholic clowns 'PRELUDE' (choreographers; Wyatt, Bouchard  Chartier) to Denise Fujiwara's 'UNQUIET WINDS' - Louis-Martin Charest's 'BOUND' - 'YEARNING' by Bouchard, Louis Faberge-Cote, with Brendan Wyatt - 'DESCENT' by Julia Alpin - 'THIS IS HOW WE LOVE' by Susie Burpee. The ensemble of choreographers seamlessly renders HISTOIRE 'D'AMOURE with the broad and intricate strokes that romance through the ages has projected upon a mixture of bodies in a variety of gendered positions. Male on male, female on male, female on female, menage upon menage - like love...
Brendan Wyatt & Sylvie Bouchard