The New Canadian Curling Club

Written on June 25th, 2018

Hurry Hard to See Mark Crawford’s Newest Comedy

The Scots invented curling one day when they got bored and started sliding rocks across a frozen pond.  Then, a rock-sliding Scot immigrated to Canada, and soon white Canadians of British descent perfected the sport of curling.  They reluctantly invited white European immigrants to join them.  And that, according to many curlers, is how it is meant to be played.

But the times, they are a-changing. Canadian curlers are being forced to change with it.  And if the sport is to continue, curling teams will become diverse.  Playwright Mark Crawford, with his special knack for pinpointing the humour in all situations, has created a heartwarming comedy about new Canadians learning to curl.  The Blyth Festival, with its special knack for finding the latest and best in Canadian theatre, has given this brand new show a home for the summer.

You will remember Mark Crawford for his previous hilarious hits at Blyth:  The Birds and The Bees in 2016 (which has now spread to theatres across southwestern Ontario) and Stag and Doe in 2014.  Crawford’s clever dialogue and witty comebacks make this another laugh-out-loud comedy.  Crawford, originally from Glencoe in Southwestern Ontario, is very effective at packing in maximum Canadiana, while making us to laugh at our prejudices.

Set on ice in a curling arena, The New Canadian Curling Club is more about racism vs. diversity rather than about the sport.  Stuart MacPhail, the ice maker at the arena, is suddenly saddled with the job of teaching new Canadian immigrants how to curl.  He is not happy to be handed this horrible burden.  In fact, Stuart is not happy about life in general.  His class consists of a Chinese medical student doing his residency in a nearby hospital, a Tim Hortons’ employee from India, a teenaged female refugee from Syria, and a Tim Hortons’ manager, originally from Jamaica who’s actually been in Canada 27 years!

This is one of those comedies that is almost too true to be funny.  The character Stuart MacPhail is the Archie Bunker of our times.  He spews out every possible ethnic stereotype.  His remarks are cringe-worthy.  I actually think there was a collective intake of breath at one point when he was way out of line.  The saving grace is that the four new Canadian curlers have sharp replies that make us laugh out loud.  And Stuart looks like a fool for his narrow-mindedness.

The show is very well cast.  Lorne Kennedy plays Stuart with all the arrogance of white privilege, but with a little bit of a soft heart showing through on occasion so you know he might possibly change his ways. Kennedy gives us a very recognizable Stuart:  We’ve all seen him at the arena or the coffee shop.

Matthew Gin plays Mike, the Chinese medical student, who barely tolerates Stuart, but eventually shows hope for the future.  Marcia Johnson is Charmaine, the Tim Hortons manager, originally from Jamaica.  Her character gets laughs when she explains that she came to Canada to marry a Dutchman.  But she’s still a new Canadian 27 years later.  Omar Alex Khan is Anoopjeet, the Indian immigrant working at Tim Hortons.  He provides physical comedy slip-sliding on the ice and generating laughs with his facial expressions.  Parmida Vand is excellent as Fatima, the Syrian refugee.  Much of the time she is stressed and unhappy, but her English language struggles and retorts are hilarious.

A note for any theatres thinking about staging The New Canadian Curling Club in the future: be sure to approach Tim Hortons for a sponsorship.  Large double-doubles and Timbits are freely advertised throughout.

In the play, it is said that curling is a stupid sport.  It’s not.  The late, great Sandra Schmirler (whose name rhymed with her sport) captured three Canadian gold medals, three world championships, and an Olympic gold, before her untimely death from cancer at age 36.  She was a strategic curler and could envision every possible move her opponents might make, when deciding on her move.  She made curling smart – and so do the four new Canadians in this play.   Even though they all arrive at the arena with ulterior motives, they learn to enjoy this game of strategy.

Following their successful remount of The Pigeon King, Blyth Festival enjoyed an appreciative opening night audience as The New Canadian Curling Club launched its 44th season.  The New Canadian Curling Club is a funny and thoughtful comedy, making it a great choice as they head into year 45.

The New Canadian Curling Club continues at the Blyth Festival in repertory until August 23.  Call 519-523-9300 / 1-877-862-5984 or go to www.blythfestival.com  for tickets.

Photo: Marcia Johnson as Charmaine Bailey, Matthew Gin as Mike Chang, Omar Alex Khan as Anoopjeet Singh, Parmida Vand as Fatima Al-Sayeed, and Lorne Kennedy as Stuart MacPhail in The New Canadian Curling Club.   Photo by Terry Manzo.

The New Canadian Curling Club
By Mark Crawford
Directed by Miles Potter
Performed by Matthew Gin, Marcia Johnson, Lorne Kennedy, Omar Alex Khan, Parmida Vand.
Produced by Blyth Festival
Blyth Festival Theatre, Blyth
June 20 to August 23, 2018.
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

 

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