Six actors stand on the catwalk above the stage against a backdrop of boney, wintery trees. They’re suffused in a cold blue light. Eerie, prickly music ebbs and flows around them. One sighs. Another yelps. One breaks into a keening wail.
So begins Mary Vingoe’s Refuge, the story of an Eritrean soldier named Ayinom who arrives in Canada without papers and seeks refugee status. The first scene tells us this story will not have a happy ending.
Ayinom is never seen. We come to know him by what others say about him. His mother Amleset (Shelley Hamilton) describes him as “a good boy”. His new-found friend Membratu (Muoi Nene) talks of his work ethic and dependability. Pamel and Alan (Natalie Tannous and Christian Murray), the couple who take him, see a side of him that makes them more suspicious. His brilliant lawyer Saul (Hugh Thompson), who is equal parts head and heart, sees the possibility of goodness and darkness in everyone.
Vingoe has woven in actual text from a CBC radio documentary on the tragic story of a refugee claimant. The scenes between the interviewer (Samantha Wilson) and her interviewees ground the story in the awful truth that here in Canada we often fail the vulnerable who seek our help.