The New Canadian Curling Club ~ 2019

Diversity on Ice with Lots of Laughs

There are some new members joining up over at the curling club.  We aren’t sure where this curling club is located – it might be in Petrolia.  There’s a Tim Hortons and a small hospital in this town, as well as the curling club.  Could be Strathroy.  Or might be Glencoe, home town of the playwright, Mark Crawford.  Or it could be any other small town in Ontario.

All we know for sure is that there are immigrants from Jamaica, China, India and Syria learning to curl.  And there’s an old white guy having trouble wrapping his head around that concept. 

Obviously that makes for hilarity in the play The New Canadian Curling Club, now on stage at Victoria Playhouse in Petrolia.  The defining moment comes when that old white guy suddenly realizes that curling was brought to Canada by his forefathers who were immigrants from Scotland.

Playwright Mark Crawford, with his special knack for pinpointing the humour in all situations, has created this heartwarming comedy about new Canadians learning to curl.  You will remember Mark Crawford for his hilarious hit The Birds and The Bees at VPP in 2017.  Crawford’s clever dialogue and witty comebacks make this another laugh-out-loud comedy.  He packs in maximum Canadiana, while making us 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 Mike, a Chinese medical student doing his residency in a nearby hospital; Anoopjeet, a Tim Hortons’ employee from India; Fatima, a teenaged female refugee from Syria; and Charmaine, the Tim Hortons’ manager, originally from Jamaica who has 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 disparaging comments on 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.

Director David Hogan has put together an excellent cast.  Patric Masurkevitch plays Stuart with plenty of white privilege, but also a little bit of a soft heart showing through on occasion so you know he might possibly try to change his ways. Masurkevitch gives us a Stuart you will recognize:  we’ve all seen him at the arena or the coffee shop.

Mike, the Chinese medical student, is played perfectly by Ivan Lo.  Mike barely tolerates Stuart, but eventually shows hope for the future.  Michelle E. White is Charmaine, the Tim Hortons manager, originally from Jamaica.  Her character gets laughs when she explains that she came to Canada to marry a blond Dutch-Canadian whom she met on the beach in Jamaica.  But she’s still a new Canadian 27 years later.  Natalia Gracious is excellent as Fatima, the Syrian refugee.  Her struggles with the English language and her interpretations are hilarious, and the audience is on her side as her grasp of English (and the favourite curse word) improves.

Brian Belleth 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. He’ll be feeling the bruises from his falls after every performance.  If you think his sliding is all acting, it may not be!  Rumour has it that the plastic ice is well covered in Pledge to cause all those slips.

The humour is in the clash of the five different characters’ cultures.  The fun is when they learn that they really aren’t so different.   If you enjoy a good laugh don’t miss this show.  It’s the best comedy at VPP since The Birds and The Bees two years ago.  Get your tickets soon; this show will be popular.

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.

The New Canadian Curling Club continues at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until August 25.  Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or 519-882-1221 or visit www.thevpp.ca for tickets.

Photo:  Mike (Ivan Lo), Anoopjeet (Brian Belleth), Fatima (Natalia Gracious), Charmaine (Michelle E. White), and Stuart (Patric Masurkevitch).  Photo by Diane O’Dell.

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 generously promoted throughout.

The New Canadian Curling Club
By Mark Crawford
Directed by David Hogan
Performed by Brian Belleth, Natalia Gracious, Ivan Lo, Patric Masurkevitch, Michelle E. White.
Victoria Playhouse, Petrolia
August 6 to 25, 2019
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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