Review: Prairie Nurse (Factory Theatre and Thousand Islands Playhouse)

Photo of Belinda Corpuz, Mark Crawford, Isabel Kanaan in Prairie Nurse at Factory Theatre, April 2018Prairie Nurse is “fun” and “entertaining”, playing at the Factory Theatre in Toronto

Prairie Nurse opened at Factory Theatre on Thursday. Written by Marie Beath Badian, and inspired by her mother’s immigration story, it’s a very funny play about two young Filipino nurses who arrive at a small rural, hospital in Saskatchewan in mid-winter in the late 1960’s.

The play is kind of a combination of farce and slapstick and hinges on the inability of the Canadians to tell the Filipinos apart. It’s not as cringe making as it sounds; two of the characters have no trouble knowing who’s who, two others can’t tell and feel terrible about it, and the fifth is clueless. The nurses think all the Canadians look the same.

It’s very much an ensemble piece with a strong cast who work exceptionally well together with Sue Miner’s direction.

The story’s fairly predictable. The joy is in the characters and the dialogue. I think that my new favourite swear is going to be “I don’t give a flying fart”.

Catherine Fitch was wonderful as head nurse Marie Anne Lussier, tough as nails, creative swearer, with a heart of gold. She might have been my favourite character.

For the record the nurses didn’t look anything like each other, nor were their personalities similar.

Belinda Corpuz as Purification “Puring” Saberon was perfect as the ‘nice’ nurse. She was sweet and charming but she had a backbone of steel. Her reaction whenever anyone swore was priceless.

Isabel Kanaan brought the right amount of nastiness to the role of Indepencia “Penny” Uy, the not so nice nurse. Charming when she needed to be, downright mean when she didn’t; her body language was even nasty.

The scenes between Penny and Puring were fascinating. Penny pointing out that she was from a well-off family in Manila while Puring was from a poor family in the countryside and Puring ignoring her.

It was a minor theme in the play but the nurses weren’t just dealing with trying to adjust to the differences of life in Canada but also to the differences in their backgrounds. There wasn’t necessarily automatic support for each other.

I enjoyed seeing the stereotypical airhead role written for a man. Matt Shaw was perfectly clueless as Wilf Klassen, the star goalie/lab technician who falls in love with one of the nurses. His fumbling, inept courting was a joy to watch.

I love a good accent and Mark Crawford’s Scottish accent as Dr. Miles MacGreggor held firm throughout even as he had to hide his hunting rifle and fishing rod and rush off to see a patient. Were doctors really like that in rural Saskatchewan?

My friend Patricia’s favourite parts of the play were the scenes where Layne Coleman, as Charlie Govenlock – the handyman – sat and talked with Penny and then with Wilf. In both scenes he was fatherly but with Penny he was the gentle and understanding father. With Wilf he was the stern, do the right thing father.

Janelle Hanna was Patsy, the overeager teenage candy-striper, who saved the day. The audience loved her. She had no trouble knowing who was which nurse and she was remarkably wise given her age. But. The frenetic physicality of her performance made me crazy. I’m perfectly willing to admit that I might have been the only person in the audience who didn’t think it was funny.

Patricia and I both felt that the play was too long. It ran for 2 hours and ten minutes with a 15 minute intermission. During intermission the woman sitting next to me commented on how long it was. She said that she had planned to leave at intermission but then “it got really good, really fast”. Her date left. So did a number of others.

Still, we enjoyed it. It was fun, funny, and entertaining.

Details:

  • Prairie Nurse is playing until May 13, 2018 at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St)
  • Show times are Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sunday at 2:00 pm
  • Tickets are $30.00, Seniors and Arts workers – $25.00
  • Tickets are available online, by phone at 416 504 9971, or in person at the box office.

Photo of Belinda Corpuz, Mark Crawford, and Isabel Kanaan by Joseph Michael Photography

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