Prairie Nurse explores commonalities within diversity

Prairie Theatre Exchange’s new offering brings in a full house

Photo by Leif Norman

Commencing its 46th season and under the leadership of new artistic director Thomas Morgan Jones, the Prairie Theatre Exchange’s (PTE) production of Prairie Nurse opened to a full house Thursday.

Inspired by her personal experiences, Canadian playwright Marie Beath Badian gives the account of two newly-arrived Filipino nurses in rural Arborfield, Sask. in 1967.

Upon their arrival at the local hospital, the setting of the play, the audience is presented with a farcical tale rich with comedy and romance. Yet, at its heart, Prairie Nurse offers a commentary on immigration and how it has helped shape modern-day Canada.
Just off the plane, two nurses arrive at the local hospital in Arborfield to a welcoming staff.
Tisdale’s old slogan of “Welcome to the land of rape and honey,” however, has them both come onstage disconcerted.
A long way from home, both Puring and Penny struggle in adapting to their new home, a portrayal of the sacrifices a whole generation of immigrants made with a note of levity.

To make matters worse the exuberant candy-striper Patsy, played by Rayna Masterton, is dumbstruck when all her previous practice on greeting their hospital’s newcomers does no good. All the while, Puring’s sobs grow louder as the irritable head nurse and matron Marie Anne, brought to stage by Pamela Halstead, is incapable of de-escalating the commotion.

Overwhelmed by the scene’s sheer mayhem, Wilf’s abrupt entry on stage, a kindhearted yet dim-witted lab technician, is the final blow for Puring to fall unconscious.

One must note that it is within these early scenes where the two nurses’ juxtaposing characters manifest, despite their “two peas in a pod” appearances.

Badian is a Toronto-based playwright with the fu-GEN Asian Canadian Theatre Company, one of the production centres she is involved with. She is a creator-in-residence with Blyth Festival Theatre where she is currently developing a sequel to Prairie Nurse.

The play is directed by Winnipeg-based performer and director Ardith Boxall, a 2009 nominee for the Making a Mark Award. The actors bring to stage the humour and romance necessary for the play’s plot and the social issues the story brings forward.
Badian’s play prompts thought by creating a pleasant experience for the audience. Thus, residing within the dramatic gestures and fast-paced entries and exits lies the play’s theme: a commonality among individuals from different backgrounds.

The seven-member cast brought on stage a funny performance of delightful scenes revolving around Wilf’s courting of both Penny and Puring, while bringing attention to the complexities and sacrifices that arise with leaving one’s home. Among the experienced cast are Winnipeg-based actor and director Robb Paterson, playing Charlie, and Pamela Halstead, artistic director of Playwright’s Atlantic Resource Centre and Halifax’s DMVTHEATRE, as Marie Ann.

The production featured Stephanie Sy as Penny, originally having taken the role of Puring in Prairie Nurse’s World Premiere at the Blyth Festival in 2013. The merits of Thursday night’s performance were the earnest capturing of each character’s array of emotions. For instance, halfway through act, one character, played by Dutchess Cayetano, relished in finding dried mango and dirt in envelopes sent by her father and brother from the Philippines.

The staging of Puring by Cayetano is noteworthy, augmenting the cast’s inventive performance. In harmony with the play’s congenial atmosphere is PTE’s thrust stage painted with a myriad of colour by set and costume designer Brian Perchaluk.