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'Love letter' to Filipina nurses who immigrated to Canada opens Prairie Theatre Exchange season

'Love letter' to Filipina nurses who immigrated to Canada opens Prairie Theatre Exchange season

'Love letter' to Filipina nurses who immigrated to Canada opens Prairie Theatre Exchange seasonCommissioned to write a…

'Love letter' to Filipina nurses who immigrated to Canada opens Prairie Theatre Exchange season

'Love letter' to Filipina nurses who immigrated to Canada opens Prairie Theatre Exchange seasonCommissioned to write a story about rural life in Canada, playwright Marie Beath Badian found inspiration close to home.

Prairie Nurse, running at Winnpeg's PTE, tells the story of 2 nurses in small-town Saskatchewan

Prairie Nurse, now running at Prairie Theatre Exchange, tells the story of two Filipina nurses working in small-town Saskatchewan in the 1960s. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Commissioned to write a story about life in rural Canada, Toronto playwright Marie Beath Badian found inspiration close to home.

Her play, Prairie Nurse, opening Thursday night at Winnipeg's Prairie Theatre Exchange, tells the sto ry of two Filipina nurses working in small-town Saskatchewan after coming to Canada during a wave of immigration from the Philippines in the 1960s.

It's a story Badian knows well â€" her mother worked at a nurse in Arborfield, a small Saskatchewan town, after arriving from the Philippines in 1967.

Playwright Marie Beath Badian wrote Prairie Nurse after visiting the small Saskatchewan town wh ere her mom worked as a nurse after arriving from the Philippines in 1967. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

"This has always been part of my part of my family, part of my family's story," Badian told CBC News of the play, which she began writing after visiting Arborfield with her mom in 2007.

"Anytime anyone saw my mom, they would immediately say, 'Where's the other one?'"

The "other one" Arborfield residents were asking about was a second Filipina nurse who worked in the community at the same time as Badian's mother.

"She looked like my mom," said Badian. "They didn't remember her name, they just remembered that there was two Filipino nurses who took care of them."

Multidimensional characters

Those interactions became the genesis of Prairie Nurse, a play commissioned by the Blyth Festival in Ontario that premiered there in 2013.

"I thought it would be so delight ful to imagine a place where everyone thought [the two nurses] were two peas in a pod, when, in fact, they were nothing alike," explained Badian.

"It was really important to bring these two characters to life and have them exist not only as their professional selves but have them be multidimensional â€" not accessories to a story â€" but have them be the story."

The play, which kicks off Prairie Theatre Exchange's 2018-19 season, is described as part farce, part romantic comedy and part cultural history. It follows Penny and Puring, who arrive from the Philippines in 1967 to answer Canada's call for nurses.

Dutchess Cayetano, left, plays Puring and Stephanie Sy plays Penny in Marie Beath Badian's Prairie Nurse. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The women's personalities are nothing alike â€" Puring is conservative and religious while Penny is feisty and even a little mean â€" but because they look similar, no one in town seems to be able to tell them apart.

Together, the oddly matched nurses deal with cultural clashes, homesickness and romantic interest from the goalie for the local hockey team, who falls in love with one of them but mistakenly courts them both.

Badian calls it a love letter to the immigration story of her mother and others who came from the Philippines to work in Canada's health-care system.

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