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Review of Refugia by The Moving Company at the Guthrie Theater

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Quote of the Day: The whole point of The Moving Company is to move people. From the moment they enter the room to the moment they leave, something happens that moves them. The more we can contribute to making people think – that’s what we are working toward. from Director Dominique Serrand in an interview with Jo Holcomb, Dramaturg at the Guthrie theater, printed in their program guide.

Christina Baldwin, Rendah Heywood, Kendra Vie Boheme Dennard and Maia Hernandez in the Guthrie Theater production of REFUGIA, an original idea developed by The Moving Company, directed by Dominique Serrand. Set design by Riccardo Hernández, costume design by Sonya M. Berlovitz, lighting design by Marcus Dilliard, and projection design by Shawn Duan. May 13 – June 11, 2017 on the McGuire Proscenium Stage. Photo by Dan Norman. — at Guthrie Theater.

According to the program guide at the Guthrie Theater, The Moving Company was inspired to develop this play based on current events about refugees in the world. In a series of nine chapters (or vignettes), some related, and some not, the Moving Company gives us glimpses of the disorientation and displacement of people from a dementia patient in America to the Syrian refugees pictured above. Some of the episodes strike a chord, are beautiful and poignant, while others don’t. 

It’s like reading a self-published book. Some of the time, it’s great storytelling, captivating, and delightful. Other times, you wish the author had found a good editor. 

Refugia is a series of stories that deal with refugees and the fears and frustrations they endure. It left me with questions: Are we all refugees, traveling from one place to another, transitioning from one stage of life into the next? Is aging a state of homelessness? Is fleeing one war-torn nation into one of distrust and hate part of life’s journey, or a constant state of being, for some people? 

I brought my four young adult sons to this performance. One is a recent college grad. One is a Sophomore in college, and the younger two are finishing their junior year in high school. I thought this play would give them some food for thought. With any experimental theater, you’ll have scenes that are more concrete and make sense, and others will leave you saying, “I didn’t get it.” All that happened to us as we experienced this play. And, I think that’s good. As director Serrand says in the quote above, it moves people, makes them think, and opens discussion. 

The Twin Cities Theater Bloggers (TCTB) had strong reactions to this piece. We’ll be posting a round-up of our reviews soon, and I’ll include links at the end of this post. 

What was most jarring to me and my boys was that the performance itself was having an identity crisis. It starts out with a humorous monologue that switches into a serious tone from a man experiencing dementia. Then, we have a goofy scene at the Mexican border where a young child is standing all alone. I hated this scene. While some border guards might be hardened, I can’t imagine real people being so heartless that they wouldn’t give a child a drink of water. And, what’s with the “fat suits” and poor attempts at jokes? (Here’s where that good editor might have suggested a few changes, or scratched the whole thing.) The next scene was a strong, dramatic moment between an Algerian husband and wife, refugees of refugees, fleeing one type of oppression and into the next, living in France, and wondering what extremist group their son has joined. This was followed by one of the most beautiful scenes, set in 1957, a couple who are Polish Jews are trying to leave the USSR, and are being interrogated. “I’m not a scientist,” says the man. “I’m a musician.” He’s written notation in a new way. The guards open his suitcases, rip out all his papers, and peel pages out of each folder, flinging them about, casting them away, hesitating only when the wife (Christina Baldwin) in her glorious opera voice brings the notes to life. They sweep his life’s work into a pile and drop it in the trash, saying, “Now, you can start over.” The words he uses to describe this atonal music, where each note on the chromatic scale has equal value, the freedom of the melody with the discipline of the harmony, are gorgeous. (If this were a show on Netflix, I would go back and watch just this chapter all over again.)

Christina Baldwin and Nathan Keepers in the Guthrie Theater production of REFUGIA, an original idea developed by The Moving Company, directed by Dominique Serrand. Set design by Riccardo Hernández, costume design by Sonya M. Berlovitz, lighting design by Marcus Dilliard, and projection design by Shawn Duan. May 13 – June 11, 2017 on the McGuire Proscenium Stage. Photo by Dan Norman. — at Guthrie Theater.

In the second act, which opened with a beautiful dance between a polar bear and a woman who are overcome by global change (I think), we saw the plight of the Syrian refugees, the father finding his son and trying to beat some sense into him to get out of the terrorists cell and hide out in a new country. “Call us,” pleads the father, “Then, throw away the phone. Never tell us where you are. That way, we won’t be able to tell anyone if they come looking for you.” My boys and I agreed, these were powerful, dramatic scenes. Then, the company switched to a weird scene in a library that went on way too long, and it didn’t even seem to fit. (Call the editor!) I wish they had gone right to their closing scene with the old man and the girl walking, then joined by all the other members, circling the stage, like we circle the globe, all occupying one world, traveling together. 

You really need to see something like this for yourself to form your own opinions and join the conversation. One scene that was meaningful to me, might not strike a chord with you, and you may like the ones that I would have cut. The audience on Saturday night (5/27) seemed to love it. Most of them rose quickly to offer up a standing ovation. The best thing about this play is that it is original, created as a team and developed with the cast. I applaud the Guthrie Theater for welcoming new material. There’s more to making theater than redoing the same stories over and over, and it’s good to stir up conversation. 

To read more opinions on this show, visit Cherry and Spoon, Compendium, and One Girl, Two Cities.

Who knows, maybe 20 years from now, my kids and I will be sitting around the Thanksgiving Dinner table, and one of them will say, “Mom, remember that weird show you brought us to about the refugees and that Polar Bear dance?”

Kendra ‘Vie Boheme’ Dennard in the Guthrie Theater production of REFUGIA, an original idea developed by The Moving Company, directed by Dominique Serrand. Set design by Riccardo Hernández, costume design by Sonya M. Berlovitz, lighting design by Marcus Dilliard, and projection design by Shawn Duan. May 13 – June 11, 2017 on the McGuire Proscenium Stage. Photo by Dan Norman. — at Guthrie Theater.

Refugia by the Moving Company is playing at the Guthrie Theater through June 11, 2017.

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: What transitions are you experiencing right now? 

  1. Hi Mary – it sounds intriguing and I look forward to reading more of your reviews … an evening one needs to be prepared for – and then can take in some of the short scenes to better interpret their meaning. Interesting – have a peaceful Memorial Day … cheers Hilary

  2. Wow, what a great subject to base a play on. So important.

    Thanks for sharing your review!

  3. You bring up a good point about making the characters believable when you mention the guard not giving a child water. I’m trying to imagine that scene and how I’d react to it or why an author would create a scene like this. Guess I’d have to see the play for myself to figure that out.

  4. Dusty G says:

    A friend of mine recently was returning from Mexico on a bus.
    ICE held them up for 4 hours most of which was spent menacing and bullying. 90 miles over the border ICE stopped the same bus again and put them through another three hours.
    Denying a child water would not be out of character.

  5. Margaret Skelton says:

    I saw the play last night and your review totally captured my reaction. Better editing and more writing to better connect the chapters. I would leave out the reference to age, the polar bear and most of the library scene

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