Saw Prairie Nurse at the Prairie Theatre Exchange last week
(Photo via Leif Norman)
It's a weird, funny screwball comedy and if you're looking to have an excuse to forget all the weird, messed-up stuff happening in the world right now and have a couple of good belly laughs, then this is the play for you.
I typically try not to do any preliminary research before going to a play at the PTE so I can go in without any expectations, and to date I continue to be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the plays, storytelling, and acting brought to life onstage each season.
The first thing that stood out to me when we sat down for Prairie Nurse was the set: usually plays at the Prairie Theatre Exchange (in my experience, anyway) tend to have more stripped-down sets, and rely on the audience's imagination to fill in the blanks.
Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I enjoyed the set a lot; in particular the lockers and the Formica table set gave everything a weird, home-y feeling. Even though the set was intended to represent the hospital staff room, it did a great job of conveying that this was the space were the characters "lived" when not working in the hospital. I loved it.
The play starts with several of the staff at a hospital in rural Saskatchewan anxiously awaiting the arrival of two new nurses who are moving to Canada from The Philippines.
The plot felt especially pertinent given than Winnipeg is home to one of the largest and most established Filipino populations in Canada, but even though the play tackles a lot of quirks and assumptions that can occur when different cultures clash for the first time, the play does a great job of speaking to anyone who has ever felt misunderstood, or out of place.
The plot of the play follows Puring (short for Purificacion) and Penny (for Indepencia), two women from the Philippines who come to a small-town Saskatchewan hospital to work as nurses during the 1960s.
The recurring problem that the hospital staff have, and what ultimately proves to be one of the major plot devices as well as one of the primary recurring jokes, can't tell the two nurses apart.
Of course, this inability by the hospital staff to tell the new nurses apart results in a variety of silly hijinks
(side note: so happy to finally have an excuse to use the word 'hijinks' in a written sentence on my blog)
which are only enhanced by the slapstick-style action of people entering through one door while someone exits another, jokes about how cold Canada is (of course), mispronunciations, and a variety of other jokes that I won't go into here for fear of spoilers.
One thing that stood out was how quietly the play addressed different, more subtle forms of racism. For example the hospital staff have a hard time telling the conservative and shy Puring, who comes from a rural community, apart from the outgoing Penny, who hails from Manila and has a decidedly more... shall we say, entitled personality.
One of the best characters was actually a supporting one: Dr. McGreggor, a Scottish doctor so obsessed with hunting and fishing that he'd pretty much rather be anywhere else than in the hospital delivering babies and tending to patients.
Overall Prairie Nurse was a charming and touching story not just of overcoming cultural differences, but also of the very human experience of trying to fit into a new place, and or trying to adapt to a changing one.
Prairie Nurse was a really lovely way to kickoff the 2018/2019 play season. I'm excited to see what the Prairie Theatre Exchange does next!