The Firehall Arts Centre recently produced Refuge, the retelling of a poignant CBC radio documentary Habtom’s Path by Mary Lynk that tracked one man’s heartbreaking journey to gain asylum status.
Written by Mary Vingoe, she develops a great background story for some of these characters. It really felt like Saul, Pamela, and Allan were developed with different life experiences that brought them to their current situations and gave them defined life views. However, both of the immigrant characters were given much less range. They were able to react to their situations and occasionally provide slight comedic relief, but they had no agency themselves.
I found myself much more interested in the story of Saul and Pamela’s relationship than the real story of Eritrean refugee Habtom and his fictionalised story of reuniting with his mother in Halifax. Although Habtom later committed suicide, it was strange never to see the central figure of this production. We were never able to connect and personify this central struggle as I would have hoped. Maybe that was due to the lively interactions between this couple and the constant past tense used when talking about Habtom, or perhaps the current interview and live action “flashbacks” setup doesn’t translate well on stage.
Overall, I enjoyed the performances even though everyone occasionally stumbled over their lines or felt a little confused and directionless. I would have liked to get additional stage time for most of these characters. Unfortunately, there were more passionate complaints about refugees and fears of terrorism than support and desire to find solutions to the refugee situation. It became hard to navigate as it was clear what the playwright and director wanted to get across, but that wasn’t what was vocalised or most prominent for the majority of the play.