Dark comedy combines gender politics and sexual scandal

A UWindsor history professor says that a staged reading of his new play, The Metropolitan, combines his own area of research with nursing, drama and social justice.

“It’s a great University of Windsor story where you can get these inter-disciplinary collaborations that are products of a close-knit campus,” says Steven Palmer, who holds the Canada Research Chair in History of International Health.

Students in the School of Dramatic Art, under the direction of professor Lionel Walsh, invite the public to the free reading, Tuesday, March 20, at 7 p.m. in the Jackman Dramatic Art Centre’s Studio Theatre. The event is co-sponsored by the Centre for Studies in Social Justice and the Department of History.

Dr. Palmer says his play was inspired by his research into the local history of medicine. In the 1940s, a nursing school associated with Metropolitan Hospital (now Windsor Regional Hospital) tried to revolutionize training for the profession.

“Up to that time, most nurses were graduates of a tedious system of hospital-controlled apprenticeship,” Palmer says. “The Metropolitan school was a pilot project by the leaders of the profession to show that nurse-run academic schools could train better nurses faster.”

The experimental school was shaken by a 1949 Royal Commission of Inquiry that rocked the city -- and the country -- with its disclosure of a scandal involving Windsor’s mayor (a strong backer of the school), young nurses from Met Hospital and a party at a glamorous Detroit hotel.

The more he looked the history, the more excited Palmer got about turning it into a play.

“It’s an exciting story and an exciting time,” he says. “The characters were so fascinating, and it involves everything from a courtroom drama to more serious issues of sexual harassment and feminist attempts to reform nursing education.”

Creating a dramatic work was not a leap for Palmer, who spent years writing entertainments before pursuing an academic career. He has written 15 works of radio drama and a number of radio documentaries. He created, wrote and co-produced the CBC Radio comedy series The Great Eastern, which aired from 1994 to 1999. His stage play, Uncivil Servants, toured Newfoundland in 1998.

After he had written an early version of The Metropolitan, Palmer approached Walsh, director of the drama school. A workshop with acting students led to the current iteration, which Palmer feels is one of the best-structured works he has ever written.

Walsh says he is excited about the play.

“The Met is an engaging, humorous and revealing story of the backroom shenanigans that tainted a ground-breaking school of nursing right here in Windsor,” he says.

Tuesday’s cast includes drama students Tamlynn Bryson, Erin Burley, Julius Cho, Andrew Iles, Vanessa Lancione, Mauro Meo, Maggie Parkhill and Cole Reid. Following the reading, nursing professors Dale Rajacich and Debbie Kane will lead a discussion; Palmer and Walsh will participate in a question-and-answer session.