Produced by Theatre Mada and presented by Theatre Passe Muraille, Suitcase/Adrenaline is two one-act plays performed as a double-bill. Written by Ahmad Meree and directed by Majdi Bou-Matar, both plays offer whimsical, poignant explorations of the Syrian refugee experience. Together, they invite the audience to meditate on the fraught notion of home and the emotional cost of a better life. They are presented in Arabic with English subtitles.
Suitcase, performed by Meree and Nada Abusaleh as a husband and wife who, having escaped war-torn Syria, are trying to figure out who they are and what their life is to be. Isolated in a new country, with brutal memories of the home they’ve left behind, they re-live their trauma and reveal long-festering, painful secrets.
Their dynamic is both funny and touching yet it felt somewhat remote. It is never made clear exactly where they; they seem to exist in a very deliberately theatrical space. The set is minimalist and stylized—two chairs, a suitcase, and a backdrop of iridescent draperies. I’m very responsive to narrative abstractions, so this aesthetic doesn’t really account for my initial difficulty in connecting with it.
It has, however, snuck up on me. Moments that didn’t hit me immediately lodged themselves in my psyche. And in unpacking my experience of it, I realized that the frustrating sense of displacement is very much the point. The space these characters inhabit is a precarious void where they must face an uncertain future, clinging desperately to the memory of mundane objects—a vase, a painting—from the fractured home they’ve left.
These tokens hold great symbolic weight for them. In this motif of objects lost or abandoned, the story captures how the most mundane artifacts seem to contain our identity, or rather, more precisely, echo the meaning we attach to them.
The second play, Adrenaline, I found more immediately compelling for reasons that aren’t entirely obvious to me. Alone on New Year’s Eve in his new Canadian home, a young Syrian man prepares a dinner. As fireworks go off, he has flashbacks to the bombs of the civil war he escaped from.
Though he is safer here, is it home? What must be sacrificed in exchange for sanctuary? To invoke the family he left behind, he dresses domestic objects up in familiar clothing—a shawl draped over a fan, a little hat on a propane tank, a scarf wrapped around a coat stand. He speaks to them affectionately, goes through the motions of domesticity, and finds comfort in the familiar ritual.
There is an eerie, artfully chaotic sequence in which he recreates a scene of breathtaking devastation. It is a viscerally stunning bit of physical theatre. But it is the final image of Adrenaline—a playful, heartbreaking tableau—that hit me hardest. In its painful absurdity, there is such resonance.