Refugees in the Garden City Stands Out at Taproot Theatre

A Domestic Play on Interracial Marriage, Parenthood and Immigration

Theatre that matters is the objective of both ReAct Theatre and Pratidhwani, something that shows in their productions. Refugees in the Garden City is a human and well-grounded play that shows the struggles of a couple whose life gets very suddenly turned upside down. Rhiannon and Arjun are forced to pack up and move from the United States to Canada in a very short amount of time. They cling to a new job that will grant them their dream lives but have to struggle through hardships, trauma, financial insecurity and relationship struggles, all while taking care of their baby.

Written by Jim Moran and Directed by David Hsieh, Refugees in the Garden City is lively, realistic and humorous in the most unexpected ways. It also comes with two different versions, performed by two casts with different takes on their characters and situation. It’s a convenient element that both allows a backup plan in case an actor is unexpectedly unavailable and also for this story to be told as thoroughly as possible. I watched the Blue Cast so this review will be focusing on that performance.

Rhiannon, played in this case by Kira Dorrian, is an exhausted mother who isn’t afraid to tell her baby that he’s “not the cutest baby.” She can be insensitive to her partner regarding his trauma and experiences with racism and overthinks in a way that doesn’t help their situation. As unlikable as that is though, Dorrian is good at showcasing the more human elements of Rhiannon, as an exhausted mother who hasn’t slept well in months and is honestly in a very stressful situation and just trying her best. Dorrian is tender and emotional in her portrayal and brings love into her role which translates into Rhiannon’s love for Arjun.

Dorrian’s counterpart, Jay Athalye, plays Arjun, who’s just really excited and grateful to be in Canada. In his happiness, Arjun overlooks Rhiannon’s feelings and exhaustion, yet his gentle and reserved demeanor makes him a likable character. Together, Dorrian and Athalye bring light to cultural clashes, parenthood struggles and dreams of a better life. Their characters’ contrast in both culture and demeanor work well together and make them a compelling couple. To top it off, Rhiannon’s snarky comments and Arjun’s sometimes foolish excitement make for humorous and enjoyable interactions that sent everyone in the audience into laughter.

Finally, Wendy Chinn plays Lai, whose one-minute appearance as a staff hotel member increased the intensity of the moment, as she seems to make all the problems go away.

The play is set in Victoria, Canada, yet the entirety of the action occurs in the hotel room they stay at, upon reaching Canada. It’s really hard to tell an engaging story on a stage that’s so static, especially in such an intimate space and with such a small cast, yet this production does an amazing job of providing enough movement to keep things lively and dynamic. There are moments of silence, of frustration and loneliness, there are fights and daydreams and romantic scenes, all flowing together and creating a satisfying pace and organic story progression.

Attention to detail in lighting, music and crafting the stage helped ground the play even more. You could see the light of the TV reflected on the room, and could even tell that channels were changing as the colors of the lights also changed. A frustratingly stuck window, a baby crib and a Dr. Who cameo were especially nice additions.

Refugees in the Garden City is definitely worth watching though I would especially recommend it to parents. the middle-aged and older couples who will be more able to relate to the content. Hopefully, you can make it to both the Blue and Green* cast renditions of the play and more effectively explore how each actor approaches the same role differently and consequently creates a different play.

*The Green cast is comprised of Emily Shuel as Rhiannon, Varun Kainth as Arjun and Wendy Chinn as Lai.

Refugees in the Garden City | Isaac Studio at Taproot Theatre, 212 N 85th St, Seattle, WA | March 25th – April 16th

Tickets: Refugees in the Garden City | Pratidhwani

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