Refuge – a powerful play at Firehall Arts Centre

Refuge - Firehall ArtsBalancing a fair refugee system and public safety are especially topical subjects with the current global debate on immigration.    Halagonian Mary Vingoe’s play, Refuge, reminds us that even a country as diverse as Canada has been touched by class, culture and sectarian violence as well as blemishes in our treatment of refugee claimants.

A powerful and relevant work, Refuge is a based on actual transcripts from an award-winning CBC Radio documentary “Habtom’s Path” about Eritrean asylum-seeker Habtom Kibreab.  Using the radio factual radio script as the centre of the story, changing the character’s name to Ayinom, Mary Vingoe has dramatized the rest of  his time in Canada.  Director Donna Spencer, has staged and cast the play nicely to keep the intimate story centred in the realism of the radio interviews with the rest of the staging kept sparse leaving focus on the human drama.

Pamela Ross (Sangeeta Wylie) & Saul Ackman (Robert Moloney)
Photo: Emily Cooper

Refuge feels a bit like a mystery, through the past vignettes we get clues to piece together the story being referenced in the radio interviews.  Although Ayinom is the central character, he never appears in the play, perhaps reflecting his uncertain refugee status. His limbo-like status is referenced by Pamela Ross (Sangeeta Wylie), the Halifax-born half-Indian woman who helps Ayinom’s mother Amleset (Angela Moore) learn English. Pamela learns of Ayinom’s plight and enlists her ex-boyfriend, human-rights lawyer Saul (Robert Moloney) to take his refugee case.

Interviewer (Nicola Lipman) & Mebrahtu (Aadin Church)
Photo: Emily Cooper

Brought together by the case, Pamela and Saul work through their own personal baggage, much involving the Air India bombings, and her family. Pamela’s husband Allan, played by Frank Zotter, is the voice of caution and fear of the unknown foreigner in his spare room. Perhaps a healthy dose of jealousy is nudging Allan to take the counter-argument to Saul as he sees his wife drawn to her human-rights activist past. Allan’s character is perhaps the least likeable character but also offers up dialogue that could be heard on any current-day debate on immigration.
Since Ayinom is never present but ever-present,  his friend and interpreter Mebrahtu, (Aadin Church) becomes his surrogate as he reads from his diary and shares his own first hand recollections. As the soft-spoken gentleman, Aadin’s performance offers up the most emotion and emotional scene of the 90 minute play.

See Refuge at the Firehall Arts Centre until April 1st, 2017 (dark on Mondays). Runtime is 90 minutes without intermission.

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