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Nowhere to go

One-man show at MAI tells the story of a man who spent 16 years in the airport

The average traveller’s layover doesn’t seem so bad in comparison to the plight of Mehran Nasseri. Nasseri, an Iranian refugee, was forced to live in Charles de Gaulle Airport’s Terminal One from August 1988 through July 2006 after his passport was stolen while travelling to the U.K. Though his circumstances have inspired several cinematic and literary works, perhaps most famously Steven Spielberg’s The Terminal, these representations have often taken liberties with the facts of Nasseri’s story. But a new play, Terminal, Terminal, written by and starring Bryan James, and directed by Deborah Fordes, seeks to bring truth to an artistic portrayal of Nasseri’s often-misconstrued story.

James began work on the script for Terminal, Terminal while in a playwriting class at Concordia’s theatre department. After James pitched the story to Fordes, she initially thought of Spielberg’s film. James responded, “No, I want to give [Nasseri] his story back.”

“[James] has brilliantly made it an everyman’s story,” Fordes commented. “You know, anyone who has had to face these issues of refugee status and immigration, and forced immigration or even living in a violent place and those kinds of things, this story’s going to resonate with them,” she continued.

The play questions typical responses to Nasseri’s circumstances, and pushes the audience to realize that there are many ways of looking at the issues surrounding Nasseri’s detention in Charles de Gaulle. One could see 16 years of confinement in an airport, with the attendant deprivation of freedom and subjugation to the will of authorities, as pure and utter torture. Or, one could see the circumstances as providing Nasseri with a haven. “It puts you in a place where you question yourself [for] feeling sorry for him. That allows us to compare his situation to some of the other people in the world who are homeless and refugees,” noted Fordes.

The viewer is also led to question her or his own life, realizing that perhaps cyclical daily habits aren’t as free as they once thought. In his script and his performance, James projects the statement, “Don’t feel sorry for me. What are you feeling sorry about? You’re just as trapped in your day-to-day life as I am trapped right here in the airport. The difference is I know I’m f-ing trapped,” commented Fordes. “And that’s a sad statement on the world, that life could take you to a place where this is beautiful, this is peace, this is happiness.”

Nasseri’s circumstance isn’t singular; there are millions in similar situations. In light of this reality, Fordes touched on deportations in Canada, stating there had been a large number of Haitians coming to Canada once regulations were tightened up in the States, “and they’re being sent back home now [that] the law changed in July of this year. They’re being deported back to Haiti just based on the arbitrariness of this law.” The restrictions will only continue as Immigration Minister Jason Kenney plans to slash the number of asylum seekers allowed into the country by half by 2010.

As the reality of Nasseri’s life is finally brought to the fore, ask yourself two questions, said Fordes: “First, do you know? Second, do you care?”