NEW CANADIAN KID by Dennis Foon, directed by Leah Cherniak, with Sean Baek, Claire Calnan, Richard Harte and Laurel Paetz. Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People (165 Front East). Runs to March 7, Saturday 2 and 7 pm, Sunday 3 pm (also February 29 at 11 am). $18-$28. 416-862-2222. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
It's never too early to learn that racism is abhorrent, and there are few better ways to present the message than Dennis Foon 's entertaining New Canadian Kid . Written in 1981, it's lost none of its punch - nor, unfortunately, its importance. We immediately empathize with narrator Nick (a charming Richard Harte ), who arrives with his parents from the non-specific Homeland to begin a new life in Canada. Already sad at leaving friends, he hits a major obstacle on his first day at school when he can't communicate with others.
Foon splendidly constructs that wall by having Nick and his mother ( Laurel Paetz ) speak English while his fellow students Mug and Mench ( Sean Baek, a genuinely threatening bully as well as a light-footed clown, and Claire Calnan ) talk a slangy gibberish that soon makes some sense to us. Young audiences love the made-up language, repeating and laughing at phrases like egg-squirter (chicken) and chillax (a blend of chill out and relax). The production's blessed to have the expert Michael Kennard (aka clown Mump) as gibberish coach.
Younger viewers also respond to the physical playfulness of director Leah Cherniak 's production. Though the focus is on the young characters, Foon lightly makes the point that Nick's mother feels like an outsider among other grown-ups and that Mug's father is the source of his racist attitudes, including the insulting "sgak" that he flings at Nick.
As appealing as the production is, the message's presentation needs honing. Maybe, though, the point only needs to be emphasized after the show, at home or in the classroom.