By Noor Khwaja
VANCOUVER – Refuge, a production by Mary Vingoe, makes its Vancouver debut at the Firehall Arts Centre on March 18. The story, inspired by the award-winning CBC Radio documentary Habtom’s Path, follows the complex journey of seeking asylum in Canada. In the play, a young man named Ayinom Zerisenai flees Eritrea and attempts to join his mother in Nova Scotia. However, doubts about his past complicate his court case and begin to trouble Pamela Ross, who has taken him in. These drawbacks in Ayinom’s resettlement ultimately lead to a tragic ending, mirroring the fate of Habtom.
By transforming Habtom’s riveting story into a play, Vingoe helps to make the difficult conversation of refugee assimilation further accessible to the public. Speaking with Vingoe, she explains that people can watch the show and think, “what would I do?” because, in a sense, “that’s what drama does.” The value of dramatized narrative is its ability to allow the audience to personalize themselves with matters that are often only displayed in headlines.
The play’s story is very relevant to the current Syrian refugee crisis in the world and, specifically, its relation to Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s claims to take in increasing numbers of refugees are no secret to the public. However, it is often difficult to view the issue from the inside instead of as a larger political problem. Refuge works to individualize the refugee experience rather than view their immigration in mere statistics. By truly immersing the audience in Ayinom’s story, Vingoe encourages them to see the shortcomings of this grey area in our system and the consequences that it has.
Refugee assimilation stems beyond humanitarian aid and compassion. As Vingoe puts it, “the situation is not black and white.” By incorporating opposing views in her characters and leaving spaces of ambiguity, Vingoe is able to ask questions that examine the complexity of the issue. While sympathies are drawn towards Ayinom and his struggle, the disconnect between protecting one’s family and protecting a refugee is also explored in the fears of Ayinom’s hosts.
With Vingoe’s goal being to “push the boundaries of what we think of as refuge,” her production broadens the understanding of the public’s relationship with Canada’s refugee system.
Refuge runs at Firehall Arts Centre from March 18 – April 1.Firehall Arts Centre, Mary Vingoe, Refuge