CALGARY — An iconic Canadian winter sport serves as the vessel for a Calgary play telling the story of new Canadians dealing with adversity and finding a way to become a part of their new community.
Alberta Theatre Projects is presenting “The New Canadian Curling Club,” a comedy that follows four new Canadians resettled in a small Alberta town.
They include a Chinese medical student, a widowed Tim Hortons manager from Jamaica who gave up her dream of being a fashion designer, a father of triplet boys from India seeking a better job, and a 17-year-old recent immigrant from Syria worried about the safety of her brother back home.
The community offers a ‘learn to curl’ class and when its instructor gets injured, the club’s ice custodian and former champion curler has to step in.
The instructor unfortunately has some negative views on Canadian immigration and refers to the team as “The International House of Pancakes,” and shows disdain for their lack of knowledge about curling.
“You start each game with a handshake. Wish the other team good curling. You don’t cheer, you don’t heckle. You call your own fouls,” growled curmudgeonly Stuart MacPhail, played by Saskatchewan actor Duval Lang, at a recent rehearsal.
“I start out as a crusty old fart and then gradually change into someone who is more accommodating and begins to enjoy life a little bit more,” Lang said with a laugh.
Lang has curled for decades and also serves as the show’s curling consultant.
“It’s come along. Everything from how to sit in the hack to how to extend yourself when you make a shot…how to sweep.”
The group eventually comes together to become a true team on a stage fitted with an authentic curling ring, complete with rocks, set in a small curling club.
“I think it combines the quintessential idea of curling with the other thing that Canada is know for, which is multiculturalism,” explains Toronto’s Richard Young, who plays Anoopjeet Singh.
“I’ve always wanted to be part of curling and I was just too scared to do it.”
There’s a lot of sight gags including Young’s difficulty in standing on the ice and being cautioned by his coach to throw the stone “nice and easy” and “not all the way home to India.”
“Thank God,” Young’s character retorts. “The postage on this thing would be a nightmare.”
Sepidar Yeganeh Farid was drawn to play the part of recent Syrian immigrant Fatima Al-Sayed.
“When I read the script it was obvious that I had to audition and my life story is very similar to the character Fatima so I have a very close connection to her,” Farid said.
Farid was born in Iran and her family eventually ended up in Montreal — sponsored by a church, like the character she portrays.
“As I see the interactions between Fatima and another character, Charmaine, I definitely see those characteristics in the relationships I had with the people that sponsored us.”
For Jenni Burke, playing the Jamaican-born Tim Hortons manager was natural.
“My parents were from Jamaica. I feel like I’m doing an homage of what happened to them,” she said.
“It’s a great Canadian story and it supports multiculturalism and everyone bringing their own colour to the mosaic.”
Jonathan Ho, who moved to Toronto from Hong Kong before his first birthday, plays medical student Mike Chang who’s also dating the granddaughter of the curling coach.
“It does speak to aspects of the immigrant experience particularly with interracial relationships and the difficulties of the culture clash there.”
Young managed to try the sport thanks to a friend who was a curling coach in Pickering, Ont.
“The first time I was slipping and sliding on the ice just like my character does here, but I was able to throw some rocks and to understand,” he said.
“So I got to learn a lot about the game and it is, as the play says, like chess on ice.”
Farid remembers her first impressions when moving to Canada.
“The first time I saw curling on TV with my family and we had no idea what it meant and we thought, ‘Oh, they’re sweeping, that’s very interesting,’” she said.
“It is super fascinating and now that I’ve watched curling it’s like ‘Oh my God I understand.’”