One Girl, Two Cities

Review: Refugia by The Moving Company

Photo by Dan Norman

Immigration. Refugees. Displacement. These are all politically charged terms, especially in light of our current administration. So how does an elderly white American man fit into all of this? Personally, I don’t think he does, but The Moving Company feels otherwise, as he and his story bookend their new show Refugia

That’s all you really need to know about the show, but I’ll share some other thoughts.

Refugia is presented at the Guthrie Theater as a series of nine chapters, each telling a different story. There’s a Jewish couple fleeing to Israel, a group of women escaping from the horrors of Aleppo, a young man who decides to join ISIS, a girl at border patrol attempting to enter the America. And a polar bear in the desert. And a white man in a nursing home. 

According to statements in this MinnPost interview, director and co-writer Dominique Serrand talked to people who know refugees, as well as read articles and books, but from the sound of it they didn’t speak one-on-one with refugees themselves. How do you confidently put on a show when you haven’t had a face-to-face conversation with the people you’re setting out to portray? Serrand also says that the show is about people who literally cross borders. Going back to the elderly white man: moving into a nursing home because your family needs help taking care of you is absolutely nothing like fleeing your country to escape persecution for your religion or your race.

How much privilege is there in nursing home accessibility? All of the privilege, that’s how much.

How much privilege is there in fleeing your homeland? Basically none, save for the fact that you’re still alive.

Comedic moments can help lighten a heavy topic, but I found most of Refugia’s humor incredibly off-putting. In the last chapter, there’s a character who audibly identifies as non-binary who is over-the-top flamboyant and adds no depth to the piece. It’s unnecessary to perpetuate this stereotype purely for humor’s sake, and I had higher hopes for The Moving Company.

In the border patrol chapter, Christina Baldwin wears a fat suit and is repeatedly told, “Congratulations!” by the men in the scene who think she’s pregnant. Fat shaming for comedic effect: aren’t we more progressive than this? Baldwin is in fact a thin woman, so why is her wearing a fat suit even part of the show? The Moving Company both discriminates against full figured women by removing them from the equation and makes fun of them for actual experiences some of them have had.

It’s insensitive and ignorant to reduce groups of people to caricatures like this.

The border patrol chapter portrays how horribly outsiders can be treated, as the girl seeking asylum is referred to both as “he” and “it” even after they learn she’s female. She never speaks and is viewed as an object. While I understand the point of this, we don’t actually get to know her story. Who is she? Where did she come from? Where is her family? Where does she go next? Overall, the show is grossly white-centric, and this chapter is one of the reasons.

I appreciate the desire to tell many different stories, but the brevity of each chapter isn’t enough time to dig into the characters, learn about their motivations, and provide opportunities for growth. Because of this and the fact that the oppressed characters have very little actual dialogue, we don’t have time to fully empathize with them and their situations. The ironic thing is, I walked out of the show feeling like the stories would have had more impact if there had been no dialogue whatsoever. 

Much of the movement is intriguing and well choreographed, and I can’t say enough good things about Riccardo Hernández’s set. It’s expansive, versatile, and modern. There are just enough subtle moving pieces to provide a variety of entrances and exits, and the clean lines don’t overshadow the performers. I’d go so far as to say it’s one of my favorite sets that I’ve come across. Of course, that’s not enough to make up for the rest of the show, but I’d remiss not to mention it.

Another aspect I noticed is that the majority of the dialogue comes from men one way or the other. As a person on Facebook pointed out (the comment appears to have been deleted but I had screen grabbed it; please forgive grammatical and spelling errors and also note that tickets are actually $26-67), the one time a black woman is featured, it’s a scene where she has no speaking part.

Spoiler alert: the show ends with the old white American man walking around the stage talking about history and coming from the same place and growing together while the other performers who played the roles of the oppressed walk around him silently. Then they all sing a song together like everything is going to be a-ok. 

What message is The Moving Company sending to their audience? They’ve both silenced the oppressed characters and given them a singular voice instead of allowing them to have individual voices. I identify as a female person of color with an immigrant mother, and it saddens me to not have found any reason to connect to this show. I commend them for their attempt at inclusivity, but if you’re looking for an authentic story of displacement, I’d implore you to look elsewhere as Refugia is short-sighted, white-centric and indulgent.

Consider these companies instead:

Full Circle Theater | Mixed Blood Theatre |Mu Performing Arts | New Native Theatre | Pangea World TheaterPenumbra Theatre | Pillsbury House TheatreTeatro de Pueblo | Underdog Theatre

14 thoughts on “Review: Refugia by The Moving Company

    1. Laura VanZandt Post author

      Thanks, Cadry, I’ve been pretty upset since I saw it and it sounds like many others are, too. As a reply to someone else who posted my review, Dominique responded with this:

      “Sad to read this. This review falls in all the traps of simplification.
      Sad and shocked, for the actors of Iraki and Lybian descent who play these principal characters ignored in this review.
      Sad to think that an African American dancer who execute a gorgeous dance is not recognized as a full voice through her dance.
      Sad to hear that the actress who wears a fat suit did not make that choice by herself , she is by the way one of the authors of that scene,
      because it would best demonstrate the discrimination and misogyny in a bureaucratic world.
      ….
      See the show you are seeing, not the one that fits you.”

      So I don’t know that he’s accepting of the fact that things went wrong somewhere, unfortunately.

  1. Andy Waltzer

    See the show you are seeing, not the one that fits you really stuck with me as an arrogant, lofty “the artist is above the audience” attitude. You saw the show you saw, as any non passive independent audience member would do. Art is alive and interactive. I have not seen the show and I have respect and admiration for the work Dominique has helped birth and nurture through the years but it saddens me to see in his response a defensive dismissal of your words when a conversation would be so much more enlightening.

    1. Laura VanZandt Post author

      Thanks, Andy. I’m having so many mixed emotions over the whole thing. For as much as I’ve seen that had to be explained about why certain things were done certain ways in Refugia, it feels like they were too ambitious with what they wanted to tackle. To address racism, homophobia, misogyny, religious oppression, nationalism, ageism, and so many other forms of discrimination was not achievable in a show like this, in my opinion. Their efforts can be applauded, sure, but to be so closed off to any kind of criticism is unhelpful in actually moving this conversation forward.

      1. Andy Waltzer

        I am in absolute agreement. Your critique is valid, your role as a writer isn’t just to promote but to engage fully. Art deserves as much. Your takeaway from the show is an impetus for an important conversation where everyone listens with respect and as a result we all gain something and move forward.

  2. Nathan Christopher

    Here is a copy of an email discussion between my friend Andy and me inspired by the article and the show itself. Just putting it here for a variety of opinion, and because I respect Andy and he respects me (I think) and this is an instance of disagreeing agreeably. The emails are separated by horizontal lines

    Hi Nathan

    Thought you might be interested in some of the conversation going on about the play you are seeing tonight. Someone suggested a discussion about it at The Guthrie, hopefully that can happen- if the Guthrie is the public space they keep speaking it up to be that would be a cool way to show it.

    Anyway, it’s an interesting conversation and in a way I love that theater is really getting people going, not passive.

    Andy
    ___________________________________________________________________

    Hi Andy,
    Well I just saw it. I intentionally didn’t read the review before going, because I wanted to see it without prejudice. After seeing it and reading the attached article, I have to say I think the reviewer is being pretty unfair. The main flaws with the show are that it is a little bit self indulgent at times and relies on some old Jeune Lune tricks, but it is very sensitive and has some powerful moments.
    I think the main problem is that she is looking at it as if it were a documentary of some kind when it is really more of a poem, and I think she missed quite a bit of what was going on.
    Just as a for instance, the thing with Christina Baldwin and the fat suit: Yeah there is some simple low physical humor rung out of that, and there is the running gag of everybody assuming she’s pregnant, but what the reviewer didn’t mention is the button at the end of that running gag where on the final time that it happens the men on stage in a theatrically casual but obviously deliberate way, end up simultaneously turning to the side, revealing that all of them have big pot bellies themselves. Christina Baldwin’s character looks incredulously at them as we all register the double standard.
    Of course, Dominique doesn’t have to be a jerk in his response, and in an ideal world he should rise above the attack it and be an educator for his audience. But the reviewer really did seem to have picked the fight, if you will.
    Anyways, that’s my opinion on that. Hope the concert was musical and magical. One day we’ll find those late night samosas. They’ve got to be out there somewhere.

    laterly
    ____________________________________________________________________

    Hi Nathan,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Having not seen it I’m hesitant to comment on the substance of the show, but I take exception (in a not upset or angry way) to the notion that she is picking a fight. The review was her perception of the show, what it left with her, and she’s open to discussion about it. It’s not an attack from her, far from it- it’s someone whose family includes actual refugees, someone not of the background of the Christina Baldwin types who saw a story being told by them, had difficult feelings about it, and then was told to hush up. It sort of strikes in a “you be quiet and let me tell your story and be grateful for it” way. And that might not be what is intended in the work but I think that is how it feels to her. Also, it is a review- not an attack, not starting a fight. Sometimes I see people look at reviews written in established media as valid and reviews written by individuals on smaller blogs as lesser, like they are causing trouble or speaking out of turn. It diminishes the voice, and sets up a top to bottom, you are the passive audience relationship- how Dominique responded felt like he was creating a power structure and she (who is supposedly represented in a way in the work) is below the “gods” that are the artists. It feels really like some outmoded model of thinking to me.

    So yeah I can’t speak of the show but I wouldn’t classify her thoughts and feelings as an attack or a fight. I think people are very quick to get into that mode, especially on the internet, choosing sides of an issue, but unless the person is being an asshole there’s always room for discussion.

    Yes to late night samosas and other adventures!

    Andy
    _____________________________________________________________

    Thanks, all good points. Still I feel compelled to push back slightly, also in a not upset or angry way. Mostly just because I like to think and talk about theater, and because criticism is of particular interest to me as a sub-topic, and because this is an instance where theater is attempting to address some very current and vital issues and how that works or doesn’t is important for would be theater practitioners to think about.

    Maybe “picking a fight” was a hyperbolic way of stating it. I’m often not the best with words. The value of her opinion is noted. I didn’t realize her review was from a smaller blog and I wasn’t disrespecting it because of that.

    I just felt that she wasn’t going to the piece and analyzing what worked and what didn’t work based on a clear perception of what it was and what it was trying to do, which is how the best criticism works. Of course everybody can have their own opinions about a work of art, but writing about a work in a public forum carries with it some responsibility I think. You can’t just say a show is doing something that proves your point and ignore the reason why it was being done. It’s like quoting someone out of context, taking their words and twisting them to serve your own ends. Rather, If she has a refugee background then she what she has to say is so important that she NEEDS to use that perspective in a positive way. I just felt like she was casting the Moving Company as part of a big oppressive non-refugee juggernaught and then just picking things out of context from the show to justify that idea. That is the sense in which it felt like picking a fight. The moving company aren’t refugees themselves, but is it wrong for them to have thoughts about, create a show about share ideas about refugee struggles? I feel like the world would be better off if more non-refugees devoted time to thinking about and talking about and imagining themselves in the situation of refugees wouldn’t it?

    Here is another for instance: She takes issue with the show starting and ending with an old white man. Well, Dominique and Steven Epp will both eventually be old white men, no doubt they may have or have had fathers that became old white men, it is a perspective that is close to them so why shouldn’t they use it?
    The audience that will be seeing Refugia at the Guthrie is predominantly old and white. The use of that character to frame the show was -according to company members in the talk back- a way to find a universal parallel to the life and death struggles undertaken by refugees crossing borders. They chose the border of death that everybody crosses eventually. This border is, I’m sure, very close to the front of the mind of the Guthrie audience. If they can be shown the parallels between themselves and the life and death struggles crossing borders that refugees undergo, that is the metaphorical power of art doing its job, I would think.
    Now the reviewer could have argued that the way they elucidated that parallel didn’t entirely fulfill that intention, and I would agree it could have used more crafting to really drive it home. But she didn’t talk about that, she just seemed kind of mad that an old white man was taking up space in the show. In fact she starts her article by describing the old white man, questioning his place in the show and then saying “that is all you really need to know about the show”, which seems to me a gesture that seeks to invalidate the work as a whole or shut down any further discussion. I know white men have historically had a strangle hold on representation in the arts, but setting that point aside for a minute, because we are talking about the piece for the time being, not the company or the programming at the Guthrie theater, etc, I think what the Moving Company were trying to show was that the plight of refugees isn’t something that belongs to “those people over there” but that belongs to (is something we can relate to, have responsibility for) all of us, even those privileged people out there in the Guthrie audience.

    Dominique can be abrasive and he has very strong opinions about artists and the place they ought to have in our culture. I happen to agree with some of those opinions, but not necessarily with the way he may state them. Let’s not excuse his response to the writer for any insensitivity in terms of a non refugee (although an a immigrant) speaking to a refugee (or someone with family members who have had refugee experiences). But lets also not ignore the fact that he is also an artist responding to a critic that had written a public article in which he may have felt (and I’m afraid I have to say I think justifiably) his work was unfairly treated.

    In a broad sense it just feels like everybody these days is only looking at things from their own perspective, becoming more and more entrenched in their own factional point of view and denying the validity of anyone else’s. We get stuck into tribes and teams and are more and more at war with other tribes and teams. To me it felt like the Moving Company was trying to honestly explore ideas and issues around an experience that was not their own and this reviewer was saying, “no that’s not your experience, you can’t have it, it’s mine.” How can we manifest the sympathy that will bring us together if it is wrong to use your imagination to think about the experiences of people different from you? I understand her feeling that she needs to defend the truth of her perspective, but she didn’t talk about the real experience of refugees in her article very much, she just talked about how wrong the show was.

    Maybe you’ll get a chance to see it. As I mentioned it is not a perfect show. I stayed after for the talk back, and the moving company talked about the fact that it was still developing and could change if it has any productions beyond the Guthrie. Maybe with all this controversy it will get deeper and better. But I don’t think in an age where we are waking up to the importance of inclusiveness in the arts and the representation of all perspectives and voices that we need to shut anybody out of that – even the French.

    Whew, I didn’t expect to respond quite that much, but I guess I got on a roll.
    You’re a good discusser, thanks for prodding my mostly inert brain.
    ________________________________________________________

    Thanks for sharing, there’s a lot to ponder. I’m saving the email to really digest it when my brain is flicked on (flicker flicker wither wither is how it seems to go) and not in a midday crisis mode of needing tea and the blah process of selling CD’s and mailing them to exotic locales like Saint Paul. (that just happened)

    There is an ongoing question in various communities of “who gets to tell our stories?” and it’s a bit of a muddle to me. Because, yes the people whose stories are being told should tell their stories but anyone who is an aware person who finds inspiration and drive in what is around them will be interested in telling stories outside of their own. But there are so many perspectives to look at this from. My simplistic immediate feeling is that perhaps there is room for many voices telling many stories.

    Sometimes the attitude that suits a world view isn’t the only one that is valid, that deserves respect. That’s something she is learning too, that in a way she has a bubble too. Back to the “who gets to tell our stories” I think there is a reflexive defense mechanism where people want ownership over their own stories and do not want them co opted or altered, diluted. So it’s theater but it’s also identity and psychology at work here.

    But yeah, I want to get back to the letter at another time since I only gave it about as much time as I’d give a tea bag in boiling water. One thing though- can I forward your thoughts to Laura, from the blog? I told her you (a friend, she doesn’t know who you are) (I know, what the hell?) were seeing the play and she was curious what you thought.

    In a way the discussion isn’t even about the play- well, for me, having not seen it, it is entirely abstract of the actual play. It’s more about the give and take of representation and art, audience and performer, subject and portrayal.

    I’ll also tell you she was hesitant about writing / posting the review. She acknowledges that there is a bubble that sometimes surrounds her as well. But she posted it because they were her heartfelt reactions to the show, the questions it left her with.

    Both of the animals, cat and dog, are asleep and snoring inches away, that’s lovely. Well, I suppose I’m not a cat or a dog but here I am telling their story!

    Andy.
    ___________________________________________________________________

    You could forward them to her sure. I was thinking maybe I should take the whole discussion and plunk it into the comments section of the article. I’m sure there would be a lot of reaction good and bad to it.
    I don’t mean, of course, to tear into your friend, Maybe I can be a little reactive too when there is a theater critic around.
    ____________________________________________________________________

    oh I think you should, that would be great- it’s a discussion that’s maybe a little difficult but it’s one worth having.

    anyway yeah that would be better than my forwarding your comments because if they inspire thoughts from her I’d end up forwarding those to you and on and on and nobody else would get a chance to weigh in and here it is, the internet working, if everyone has a good back and forth.

    til soon

    Andy
    ____________________________________________________

    that’s all folks. sorry if its excessively long. Just thought context was important

    1. Laura VanZandt Post author

      Thank you so much for sharing this conversation and your thoughts. I will respond much more in depth soon but for now, since I’ve made your response public, I’d like to note that my mom is an immigrant but not a refugee – an important distinction of course.

    2. Laura VanZandt Post author

      To be super Minnesotan – oofda. I have to start by saying I truly love the conversations this show has inspired. I knew I might be opening a can of worms when I posted my reflections, and I’ve been fully open to critiques on my critique. As far as a blogger being “lesser,” my only comment is to note that as a blogger, I share experiences from my life and I do not consider myself a theater critic as I have no background in theater (ok, I was in the pit orchestra for Joseph in high school). It was important to me to document my gut response to this show, and I felt completely free to do so as I attended the show on my own accord and did not receive press tickets. So yes, I took what I wanted from the show and wrote what supported my feelings because I wasn’t there to view the show objectively. Whether that’s right or wrong is open to scrutiny.

      As the show has four different writers, I’m sure there are many motivations behind the creation of the piece. Since publishing this review, someone who was involved in the creation process at one point in time has reached out to me and questioned the motivation. The discussions that this person experienced made them feel like the show was being done for the purpose of being relevant and not for the sake of telling someone else’s story, which to me is questionable and can lend itself to the white savior complex narrative. I’m not saying this is the full motivation or even an accurate way to state this, but that’s how it came across to me. As this person is also a person of color, they expressed to me that they don’t feel like they were provided a safe space to share their opinions on the piece which admittedly kind of devastates me. This is something I had shared with Andy already and thus the idea of, “I’m telling a story so be quiet while I do so.” I love the idea of people exploring the stories of people who are different from them, but I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of doing so only through their lens because it doesn’t provide an honest story. Someone can sit here and read through my blog posts and create a show about me and my life, but unless they involve me in the creation process, it’s not authentic. This is why I pointed out the MinnPost interview with Dominique because if the only way they learned about the experiences of the people whose stories are portrayed in the show was through the lens of another (whether through talking or reading), there’s still a different bias that will come through versus directly going to the people and listening to them. Maybe they did include real people from the stories at one point, but I feel like that would have been the first thing he mentioned if they had done this. Again, speculation on my part? Yes.

      During the conversations I’ve observed and participated in, I’ve tried to leave other people out of it, but I will say that I’ve had many people reach out to me to say that my post expressed how they felt while watching the show. This doesn’t mean that people on either side are collectively right or wrong, of course, but I honestly believe that if The Moving Company encouraged open and honest feedback, they wouldn’t have made the show we saw. I can’t believe that they would ever want people to view the show the way I did, but the fact that so many others did as well is concerning.

      It’s fair for them to want to take up space and be part of the story, and it doesn’t escape me that they were providing a white American perspective to a mostly white American audience. But even, for the sake of full disclosure, as a person who also identifies as white, this show did not appeal to either of the races with which I identify. (That’s a whole different post in regards to my identity as an “other” who never quite fits comfortably into one box.) The people who have reached out to me come from all walks of life as well in regards to race, religion, and gender, so it’s not like only one group of people is finding Refugia problematic. And that’s not to say that individuals within these same groups haven’t loved the show and made a sincere connection with it.

      In the end, what concerns me the most is having heard from people who helped create the work in some form who didn’t feel like their voice was welcome. A show that’s supposed to represent of all of us.

      Nathan Keepers reached out to me via Facebook and we have a coffee date planned for next week to continue the dialogue and I’m sincerely looking forward to it. Any other thoughts, questions, concerns, etc. are more than welcome. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts and feelings. It’s not easy, especially through text, but your openness to have a legitimate discussion comes through.

      1. Nathan Christopher

        Hey Laura, Thanks for your response. You know, I want to make clear to you that my critique of your blog post isn’t in any way an attempt to invalidate the issues you are concerned with of the importance of all of us being aware of them or doing the vital work to address them. My question is whether maybe you are making an enemy out of a potential friend in the fight. I saw the show too and had my own subjective reactions to it, which I hope you’ll acknowledge are as valid as yours. It just seemed to me that while you identified and recorded many component parts of the show, your assessment of they’re meaning seemed to depend on leaving out or otherwise ignoring other aspects of the piece. In a broad sense, I think the examples you cited mostly did the opposite of what you felt they did.
        I understand your remark that you are not a reviewer, but a blogger and that you were giving your honest gut response to the piece. I wonder though if you would acknowledge that there may have been ways in which you used that public forum -that you are privileged to have- that may have gone beyond just the honest reaction of an individual? Here are some examples:

        “Immigration. Refugees. Displacement. These are all politically charged terms, especially in light of our current administration. So how does an elderly white American man fit into all of this? Personally, I don’t think he does, but The Moving Company feels otherwise, as he and his story bookend their new show Refugia.
        That’s all you really need to know about the show, but I’ll share some other thoughts.”

        I mentioned this one in my discussion with Andy, To me it seems like you were starting off with denying the validity of the whole show, based on the first sequence you saw. I mean, that is what I got as a reader of your blog. If I had read the blog before going to see the show, how would this have colored the way I viewed it? That’s how you started the post, here is how you ended it:

        “I commend them for their attempt at inclusivity, but if you’re looking for an authentic story of displacement, I’d implore you to look elsewhere as Refugia is short-sighted, white-centric and indulgent.
        Consider these companies instead:”

        I don’t understand why you felt you were justified in telling people to skip seeing the show, but it was not justified for Dominique to respond in defense of his piece. That seemed unfair to me.
        Here is a thought from your response to my post:

        “I love the idea of people exploring the stories of people who are different from them, but I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of doing so only through their lens because it doesn’t provide an honest story. Someone can sit here and read through my blog posts and create a show about me and my life, but unless they involve me in the creation process, it’s not authentic.”

        Did you have a conversation with the Moving Company before writing about their show? In your own words you say :

        “I took what I wanted from the show and wrote what supported my feelings because I wasn’t there to view the show objectively.”

        Isn’t this only writing about it through your own lens? If it would be possible to misinterpret your story or the story of the refugee experience based on limited information, could you maybe have misinterpreted the story the Moving Company was telling?

        Which brings us to a big issue in your review and an honest question I think is worth thinking about: Is a piece about refugees only valid if it is created by refugees? My argument would be that not all of us are refugees, but all of us, being compassionate involved individuals, should be thinking about them (as well as the inexhaustibly large number of other inequities and human tragedies in the world). We should be doing what we can when we can to help or spread awareness or raise questions or whatever our individual talents and abilities allow us to do, right?
        Now, When you say the piece isn’t authentic, I wonder what your definition of authentic is. Is it inauthentic because it uses imagination and pretend to show stories? That seems to me to be a very basic definition of theater. Is it inauthentic because it is told from a viewpoint that is not yours? Well, I encourage you to make your own show then. Wouldn’t it be great if you could arrange to interview some refugees and have them tell their stories? The other theater groups you mention at the end of your article are all excellent might be interested in working with you on that. If their schedule is full up, there are a myriad of other groups or collaborators around town that might also find that an intriguing project to take on.
        I think that that direct approach is one way to tell stories, but there are and should be a whole bunch of other ways. Is the only authentic theater the actual people telling their actual stories? There is another term for that, it is called documentary. That is a powerful form, but it isn’t the only form nor does it render all others unnecessary.
        There are many ways to get at the Truth. The thing is, I’m not sure it is the responsibility of Art to tell things as they should be or tell us the right way to behave or look at things. That may be the function of things like religious texts, self help books, legal documents, or propaganda.
        I think responsible Art tells us how things are, or at least the closest and most honest version we can create about how they are. And it gives us as much material as possible for asking our own questions and making our own decisions about the way things ought to be. When it moves into creating didactic lessons and easily sewn up moral messages it kind of becomes those other things and looses it’s unique kind of power.
        Oscar Wilde said “All art is quite useless” . I don’t think he was just being flip about it. I think he was suggesting that Art at its best presents us with choices, paradoxes, complicated multilayered people and situations for us to ponder and unravel. When Art gets moralistic and demonstrative or propagandistic it becomes possible for it to be used by one partisan side or another to manipulate people or as a tool of persecution or evidence against those who are persecuted. When it gives us the final word on something, it also stops us thinking. “Well, that play really summed up everything I need to know about the refugee experience, I guess my mind is made up on that, I now understand it completely.”

        Which brings me to one last example of something you mentioned in your blog and how I think you maybe weren’t giving it a fair viewing:

        “The border patrol chapter portrays how horribly outsiders can be treated, as the girl seeking asylum is referred to both as “he” and “it” even after they learn she’s female. She never speaks and is viewed as an object. While I understand the point of this, we don’t actually get to know her story. Who is she? Where did she come from? Where is her family? Where does she go next? Overall, the show is grossly white-centric, and this chapter is one of the reasons.”

        You say here that you understand the point of it, but then you cite the very questions that it is designed to inspire you to ask:

        “Who is she? Where did she come from? Where is her family? Where does she go next?”

        At the post show discussion the Moving Company said that this piece was inspired by an image they saw of an immigrant girl holding a sign that said “help”. That image is all they had to go on. You’re right that they didn’t create a story for her to tell, but they didn’t have her story. Creating it would have been dishonest. The image of her with the sign was the most eloquent aspect they could fix on, and the questions that it put in your mind were meant to be uncomfortably an-answered.
        If the Guthrie audience got her whole story, they could say to themselves “oh what a sad story, it’s just tragic for those people. I feel bad about it, so I must be a good person. Let’s go to Sea Change and have some drinks”. But it intentionally didn’t give them that, it left them with the uncomfortable questions. That is the point I feel you missed.

        You know, I’m taking the time to write all of this out because I feel like the questions you are raising are important and I respect you and your effort to raise them. I can’t really speak for Dominique Serrand, but even if you felt his response to your article was offensive or dismissive, at least he respected your view enough to respond. There aren’t a lot of directors around town who would have done even that. I just think there are so many real enemies out there that we can’t afford to blast people who are just trying to get at the same problems that we are, and we really need to consider all avenues to do so with an open mind, on their own terms.
        I hope your coffee with Keepers goes well, I am sure he will be able to speak for the piece far more knowledgeably than I can. Who knows? You might be part of the process of the next iteration of Refugia. Cheers!

        1. Laura VanZandt Post author

          Hi again, Nathan. I don’t feel invalidated at all, but I appreciate you making that clear. This blog is a privilege, my viewpoint is privileged, yes – I have lots of privilege, a lot of which I’m still learning about because there are so many different kinds of privilege out there. My review isn’t pretty, and I won’t argue with much of what you’ve said about it, but I’m still firm in my belief that a white American man who lives the end of his life in a nursing home is not something you can compare to the victims of Aleppo or the Holocaust. I didn’t see this scene and immediately dismiss anything else that followed it; it sank in as Steven Epp walked around the stage while the others silently joined him at the end. It’s a subliminal message that our voices still don’t matter because white men continue to hold the dominant voice. I firmly believe we don’t need another show like this, no matter how good they thought their intentions were and are.

          I do feel that refugees need to be involved in creating a show about their own stories, yes. Do they need to create the show? No. But they do need to be involved. Otherwise you’re appropriating their stories for your own benefit and thus continuing the systemic oppression. “Is it inauthentic because it is told from a viewpoint that is not yours? Well, I encourage you to make your own show then.” I wouldn’t make a show about someone else without allowing them to include their voice in the process because I don’t find it appropriate. I’m not a refugee and wouldn’t feel comfortable trying to tell a refugee’s story. Does that make it wrong for someone else to want to tell their story? No, but I think it’s inauthentic to try and tell real stories without including the people those stories are based on.

          I’m not going to pat myself on the back for eliciting a response from Dominique because his response perpetuates the problem, in my opinion. As I mentioned, I’ve come across people who have connected with the show, and I’ve honestly enjoyed hearing others’ interpretations. It appears we’ll have to agree to disagree on some of this, but I really appreciate you asking many tough, thought-provoking questions. Every conversation about this show has been all consuming for the past week, but I’ve learned so much and will continue to spend a lot of time thinking about it.

  3. Darrell F

    I agree fully with Laura’s review. My wife and I went to see this play and had a difficult time connecting to the real tragity that the play should have been about. Seems it was disconnected and when it was time to go deep it just went on to another unrelated act.
    We were going to leave at intermission but thought it has to get better by pulling things together. But no that did not happen and the play just continued to nowhere.

    1. Laura VanZandt Post author

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Darrell! It’s unfortunate to have a shared experience in this one, as I really wanted to connect to the stories being told as well. I’ve heard a few positive thoughts on it, but I’m both surprised and not surprised at the number of people who have reached out to share that they feel the same way you and I do.

  4. Laura VanZandt Post author

    Additional writing regarding Refugia:
    Minnesota Playlist: http://minnesotaplaylist.com/magazine/article/2017/the-moving-company-and-the-american-theatre-s-patriarchy
    Minnesota Playlist: http://minnesotaplaylist.com/magazine/article/2017/shall-rome-stand-under-one-mans-awe
    Compendium: http://compendiummpls.blogspot.com/2017/06/talking-about-twin-cities-theater.html
    City Pages: http://www.citypages.com/arts/following-refugia-opening-the-guthrie-asks-tough-questions-about-diversity-both-onstage-and-in-the-audience/427243681
    MinnPost: https://www.minnpost.com/artscape/2017/06/spcos-liquid-music-has-surprises-store-2017-18-american-paris-opening-ordway
    Star Tribune: http://www.startribune.com/guthrie-hosts-tense-awkward-dialogue-on-white-centric-play-about-refugees/427283501/

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