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By Constance Scrafield
Be sure to catch The New Canadian Curling Club, on now at Theatre Orangeville and running to May 14. It will make you laugh.
Playwright of the piece, Mark Crawford, likes to take a difficult subject and stir it together, in more or less equal parts, with humour. He has had some good success with this recipe, and it looks as though his best effort yet is The New Canadian Curling Club. Certainly, the first few gasps, the frequent laughter and the spontaneous standing ovation from the Opening Night audience bespoke their enthusiasm for the sentiments that were aired and the wonderful cast who delivered them.
This is a play with lots that's funny and serious considerations.
Take the premise: four immigrants from China, Syria, Jamaica and India decide, for their individual reasons, to attend the Learn to Curl classes for new Canadians. They arrive separately to the curling club for their first lesson, only to meet their instructor, the "old white guy," Stuart MacPhail, a curmudgeon at best and a bigot at his worst. He, the reluctant teacher of this mixed crowd, has been forced into the situation as a substitute for his ex-wife, who fell on the ice and broke her hip.
"We're seven generations of Scottish MacPhails!" he tells them, thus beginning this relationship with them with hearty ignorance. He has trouble saying their "foreign" names, trouble even remembering: the Indian Anoopjeet.
Anoopjeet is very tall, anxious and has come to this curling club hoping to influence his manager at Tim Horton's to promote him to assistant manager, currently an opening at the shop.
She is Charmaine Bailey, as she tells Stuart in a firm voice; she immigrated from Jamaica 19 years ago and, so it seems, is still looking for the kind of acceptance that would make a home of Canada for her. Charmaine is engaged with a church group responsible for bringing refugees into Canada from war-torn zones, Syria specifically.
Fatima Al-Sayed is one such rescue, having arrived on these shores for only two months.
Three years ago, Mike Chang came from China. He is a medical student who already has a history with Stuart, one that causes them to wrangle even as the group begins to slide the curling stones down the ice sheet.
During the struggles of these individual lives, including Stuart's, plus their struggle with Stuart himself, the dialogue is quick-witted and sometimes sharp of tongue. It does not take long for the new Canadians to find their common ground and turn the tale on its head.
The construction of the play is clever in how it moves from scene to scene during the games with other teams. The way in which each actor plays their role is fun without being caricatures.
This was important to Andrew Prashad, acting the role of Anoopjeet Singh. Acknowledging to us at the reception following the show that Indians are often mimicked, he wanted his character to ring true rather than be a joke. His lines are funny, but he wants Anoopjeet to be a real person.
The cast and crew were glowing with the success of their performances and the play itself. We were so happy with them too; many were the greetings, words of praise and congratulations. Lebanese-Canadian Zaynna Khalife playing the part of Fatima Al-Sayed, was so excited there was only a second to speak to her. She was delighted with how joyous this moment was for her.
In the story, Fatima also faces a serious problem back home and has to balance it with the possibly less serious business of learning to curl, and Fatima Al-Sayed keeps us worried.
A powerful performance from Norman Yeung in the role of Mike Chang. He supports his personal angst with Stuart, and in their private moments, their repartee is very humorous, while the verbal daggers stay barely sheathed.
Perhaps the strongest voice comes from Charmaine Bailey, dealing with Anoopjeet's frustration, dealing with Stuart, and leading the pack against moments of his perceived misspeaking. Chiamaka Glory carries that role as if she understands Charmaine very well.
John Jarvis is the white face of Stuart MacPhail, with so much to learn and so little inclination at first to learn it. His storms and reasoning are hilarious and worrying at the same time.
Kudos to director Jane Spence for a fine job of directing this play. With the five characters and their five stories, she has kept the flow going and their messages clear. We can see how the discussions about each persona between the actors and the director have borne the fruit of credibility.
As a production, this show is up to the world-class standards to which audiences are always treated by Theatre Orangeville. Set designer and TOV's production manager Beckie Morris was invited by Orangeville Curling Club to understand how the curling sheet looks and the construct of the physical game. The cast and crew of this production were very grateful to the Orangeville Curling Club for their generous tutoring and advice, putting the sport's details together.
Such a fine production is brought to us by Theatre Orangeville's team: Jeff Johnston Collins, lighting design; Alex Amini commanded the costumes; Brian Bleasdale is the sound designer; and Grace Batten handles the job of stage manager with Jory McLean ASM.
The percussionist putting the distinctive pause between scenes is Scott Bruyea.
In the midst of the roar of happy conversation around us, it was John Jarvis who answered our one question, saying, "What's at the centre of this play that I love about it is everything comes from the heart and it's the heartfelt warmth that makes it a great play."
The New Canadian Curling Club is on at Theatre Orangeville until May 14. For tickets, subscriptions to Theatre Orangeville's new season 2023/24 and more information, go to www.theatreorangeville.ca. You may also check in at the Box Office, 87 Broadway or telephone those lovely people at 519-942-3423.
Post date: 2023-05-04 14:36:23
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