- Title: The New Canadian Curling Club
- Playwright: Mark Crawford
- Director: Darcy Evans
- Genre: Comedy
- Actors: Jenni Burke, Sepidar Yeganeh Farid, Duval Lang, Richard Young and Jonathan Ho
- Company: Alberta Theatre Projects
- Run date: Through March 23, 2019
In curling, hitting it on the nose is considered a good thing.
In theatre, not so much.
That came to mind early in The New Canadian Curling Club, playwright Mark Crawford’s comedy about a group of Canadian newcomers coming together over their mutual distaste for their small-town curling mentor, an old-stock Scot named Stu.
(How’s that for an elevator pitch if you should find yourself sharing one with exactly the right Canadian cultural-funding gatekeeper?)
There’s only one place this inorganic crew could ever exist, and that’s in an infomercial celebrating Canada’s multicultural mandate – and if The New Canadian Curling Club feels for most of its two-hour running time like a cross between a Justin Trudeau fever dream and an old episode of All in the Family, well, that’s because that’s what it is.
I don’t mean to be snarky or anything – maybe a little – but All in the Family is one of the greatest American sitcoms ever (that’s the good news). The catch is that it premiered in 1971, and there are long stretches during the 70-minute opening act of New Canadian Curling Club when it feels like Stu (Duval Lang) is stuck back then, moored in what you might call Red Neckism 101.
That’s where the crusty curling-club guy who keeps the ice impeccable greets all the people of colour, like Jamaican expat Charmaine (Jenni Burke), Indo-Canadian Anoopjeet (Richard Young), Chinese medical student Mike (Jonathan Ho) or Syrian Fatima (Sepidar Yeganeh Farid), with some snarky reference to their otherness.
(The play’s weakest running gag is how Stu can’t pronounce Anoopjeet’s name.)
It isn’t Stu’s racializing that makes the early scenes of Curling Club feel forced. It’s that his casual racism is so very CBS on Saturday night at 8 o’clock, circa 1975.
(To paraphrase the old seventies Virginia Slims cigarette ad: Racism has come a long way, baby! Can you say “alt-right”?)
The unlikely foursome have come together to receive free curling lessons at the club of an unidentified small town, which sticks in the craw of Stu – he sees it as yet another example of how immigrants get handed everything.
Two are Tim Hortons employees, one is going to be a physician and one, Fatima, spends her time obsessively texting brother Mahmoud, trapped back in Syria.
It isn’t all Bunkerisms, however. There are some funny scenes here, particularly from Young’s Anoopjeet, who delivers a frequently hilarious monologue recounting his family’s escape from the trauma of living with in-laws in Edmonton.
Burke’s Charmaine is hardly a newcomer – she accompanied a white guy named Don to Canada 27 years earlier, and never left – and she has a way of telling a story that makes you root for The New Canadian Curling Club, and its mismatched curlers.
The story is driven by medical student Mike, who is determined to find a way to connect with Stu, his girlfriend’s old bastard of a granddad, going so far as to concoct a sign language as a way of keeping Stu from stumbling into yet another verbal minefield every time he greets the crew. (It doesn’t help. The first words out of Stu’s mouth are invariably “you people.”)
It’s all framed around the club’s Highlander Bonspiel, an event laden with meaning for Stu, who – spoiler alert! – is secretly not such a bad guy.
As it unfolds in the second act, The New Canadian Curling Club does hit some graceful notes, particularly delivered by Ho, who provides the team with leadership, resilience and determination.
The set, by Scott Reid, evokes small-town curling clubs that dot communities across the Prairies, including curling rocks – and crusty Calgary mainstay Lang, as Stu, delivers a number of engaging odes to the old Scottish game.
I won’t reveal the final results of the bonspiel, but you’re likely to have discovered you’ve become a curling fan.
By the end, when Fatima receives a fateful call on her iPhone (beautifully received by Farid), you might find yourself sweeping hard for The New Canadian Curling Club.