Prairie Nurse

Written on August 21st, 2013

Culture Clashes in a Piece of Canadian History

It’s 1969. Across Canada, young doctors from Ireland are taking positions in our medical centres and hospitals. On the Prairies, young women from the Philippines arrive to work in hospitals due to the nursing shortage. And while there are culture clashes, there are also attractions between native Saskatchewaners and the new Filipinos.

That’s the story of Prairie Nurse, a new Canadian play now on stage at the Blyth Festival. It’s a charming tale, designed to dispel cultural myths and make everyone involved able to laugh at themselves.

The first thing we learn: just because two nurses from the Philippines arrive together in Saskatchewan, doesn’t mean they are friends, or even have much in common, for that matter. And while the white folks of Saskatchewan have difficulty telling the Filipinos apart, the young nurses struggle to remember who’s who among their new colleagues, too.Prairie Nurse

Puring is the sweet and shy girl from the Philippines, while Penny is the more sophisticated of the two, and looks down on Puring for her lack of fashion sense. Puring is immediately traumatized upon arrival in Saskatchewan, terrified by the sign that announces they have arrived in the “Land of Rape & Honey”. (I saw that sign posted in 1975 in Tisdale). Eventually it was explained that rape is a seed grown for oil and renamed canola. The mistaken identities and cultural shifts, along with youthful romance create many laughs along the way.

Steph Sy as Puring and Lana Carillo as Penny are both perfect as the Filipino nurses. Michael Torontow is excellent as the Irish doctor who is more interested in hunting and fishing Canadian-style, than looking after the 1 or 2 patients in the hospital. Sarah Cornell is very convincing as the tough head nurse, smoking and cursing while managing small hospital. Jess Abramovitch is cute as Patsy, the school-girl candy-striper, and Ryan Bondy adds humour as the lab tech who got the job because the town needed a good goalie on their hockey team. Rob Torr is an audience pleaser as Charlie, the father figure who attempts to sort out all the issues the younger folks face.

This play especially enjoyable because it’s based on a true story. Playwright Marie Beath Badian based her work on her mother’s story — her mother is Puring in the play. She and her mother even revisited the hospital where her mother first worked 40 years earlier. They also looked up the real life Penny when Badian was researching to write the play.

Badian has woven together an amusing and heart-warming tale around a piece of Canadian history, thus preserving this interesting piece of past Prairie life.

Prairie Nurse continues at the Blyth Festival in repertoire until August 30. Call 519-523-9300 / 1-877-862-5984 or go to for tickets.

Prairie Nurse
By Marie Beath Badian
Directed by Sue Miner
Performed by Jess Abramovitch, Ryan Bondy, Lana Carillo, Sarah Cornell, Steph Sy, Rob Torr, Michael Torontow.
The Blyth Festival, Blyth
August 7 to 31, 2013
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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