by Lynn on January 17, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at Theatre Passe Muraille, Toronto, Ont. Produced by two thousand feet up theatre co. Plays until Jan. 28 2024.

Written by Matei Visniec

Translated by Nick Awde

Directed by Siavash Shabanpour

Set by Kadi Badiou

Costumes by Tessa ourchier

Lighting and projections designed by Duncan Appleton

Sound by Victoria Gallant

Composer, Nariman Eskandari

Photographer and videographer, Zahra Saleki

Cast: Jamar Adams-Thompson

Parastoo Amanzadeh

Jeffrey Auminio-Mesidor

Jeysa Caridad

Andrew Chown

Mahsa Ershadifar

Silvana Herrera

Lean Jafari

Eric Kinsella

Keely Krall

Ahmed Meree

Daniel Motaharzadeh

Henry Oswald Peirson

Shannon Pitre

Henrique Santsper

Garrett Mallory Scott

Jona Villa

Gripping and important stories of immigrants and refugees escaping oppression, told with artistry.

Playwright Matei Visniec illuminates gripping stories of immigrants and refugees escaping oppression, but with a twist. While we occasionally see and hear from them directly—if they have no papers or cannot swim—we get the stories indirectly, from the people around the immigrants.

At the center is Boss (Ahmed Meree)—demanding, commanding, emotional and matter of fact– he will be taking the immigrants and refugees by boat to Lampedusa, but not to shore. He will drop them off far from shore where they will ‘swim’ with the aid of life jackets the rest of the way, hence the importance of knowing how to swim.

There are the opportunists who convince desperate parents to send their children ahead for safety, not realizing they will be taken and sent into slave labour elsewhere. A Balkan Man (Andrew Chown) seems to have an onerous job to keep immigrants out of his country, but in a wonderfully subtle scene he and his wife (Mahsa Ershadifar) show how open-hearted they are.   

Two white presenters (Keely Krall and Shannon Pitre) cheerfully talk up the latest technology that can detect the panicked heartbeat of an escaping immigrant or the latest in improved barbed wire.

The President (Garrett Malloy Scott) of a country that might be France) writes a free-wheeling speech about keeping immigrants out of his country only to have his ‘coach—PR expert’ Henry Oswald Peirson, massage the speech to incorporate all the politically correct jargon that ‘softens’ the speech. We are told that ‘immigrant’ and ‘refugee’ are not acceptable words, but ‘migrant’ is acceptable. Matei Visniec cleverly indicates his disdain for this watering down, by spelling the title of his play Migraaaants.

All of the people surrounding the immigrants give us a chilling idea of the sordid world these desperate immigrants and refugees have to navigate to escape and the trauma, hardship and challenges they endure along the way.

Perhaps the most important person in the play is Boss and Ahmed Meree plays him with passion, commitment and urgency. (Note, Ahmed Meree has his own take on the refugee story with his two stunning plays: Adrenaline and Suitcase). Boss tells his passengers all the rules and regulations of travelling with him: what to say when they get to shore, they will have lifejackets; they should have papers but that will change. He says that he is not like other ‘traffickers.’ He is a man of God and a family man. We get the measure of him when something goes wrong. Ahmed Meree gives a gripping performance.           

As Elihu, Parastoo Amanzadeh is astonishing. Elihu is faced with an impossible decision as a youth. Parastoo Amanzadeh plays Elihu with such stillness and economy it’s mesmerizing, making Elihu’s dilemma all the more gut-wrenching.

Director Siavash Shabanpour directs with such style and a sense of vivid imagery. He navigates his large cast with grace and clarity and the emotional cost is in every performance. Duncan Appleton’s lighting is stark and artful and his projections add another layer of depth to the various stories.

I would suggest that to strengthen the story of the immigrants and refugees, the parts of the two Presenters should be cut. They do offer a cold-hearted perspective of the two white Presenters, but they detract from the real angst of the actual people fleeing their countries. By cutting these two parts, the whole is strengthened.  

Migraaaants is a harrowing play. May we never become complacent about these heart-squeezing stories of people desperate to find safe haven from oppression.

two thousand feet up theatre company presents:

Plays until Jan. 28, 2024

Running time: 80-90 minutes (no intermission)

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