The story of a young refugee, Mary Vingoe’s play Refuge more relevant than ever

March 13, 2017

By Shawn Conner, Vancouver Sun |

When Mary Vingoe wrote Refuge, she had no way of knowing how relevant the play would become.

“We didn’t have the Syrian crisis, we didn’t have the pictures of the families crossing the Mediterranean,” says the playwright, who is based in Halifax. “It was ‘pre’ all of that. It was written under the Harper government. Then the Syrian refugees changed our awareness. And now it’s changing again as the American situation heats up.”

Vingoe was originally inspired by a 2010 CBC Radio documentary about an Eritrean man who arrived in Nova Scotia in 2008 as a refugee claimant.

“That story (the documentary) really captured my imagination,” Vingoe says. “I wanted to make a fictional story that would embrace that story, to fill out the what-ifs around him. So I created fictional characters. But the story of the refugee claimant is incorporated into the play. So it’s a bit of a hybrid.”

Refuge revolves around Ayinom, an Eritrean army deserter who had come to Canada. But the play is about how his presence has an impact on fictional characters like Pamela, a museum curator who tutors the young refugee’s mother. Although her grandparents were killed in the 1985 Air India bombing, and despite her conflicting feelings about refugees, Pamela and her husband decide to take Ayinom in.

“I wanted to create a Canadian counterpart who would have a very personal connection to terrorism,” Vingoe says.

“Air India was the largest act of terrorism to happen on Canadian soil, and it still has not really been resolved — perhaps it will never be resolved.”

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