Fugee, this year’s offering from the Third Wall Academy, explores the hardships of being an orphan refugee with its ensemble cast of young actors.
Fugee is explicitly the fictional story of the arrival of Kojo (Patrick Bugby), a 14 year old refugee from Côte d’Ivoire orphaned by violence, in his English-speaking destination country and the dehumanizing treatment the bureaucracy metes out to him there.
The script of this show is quite complex, jumping through time before and immediately after a particular moment of crisis in Kojo’s experience. Crisp transitions and strong presence by the actors tie the narrative together, and bring it to life in a series of powerful moments on stage.
The cast does a great job as an ensemble, particularly in the consistently distinct evocation of several characters by many of the actors; after the structure of the show becomes clear, and we are introduced to the characters, I appreciated the strong physicality of each character as a clue to identify which part of the story we were transported to next.
The moments shown between Ara (Helen Thai) and Kojo are particularly poignant in their execution. That relationship develops before our eyes through really excellent dialogue, and is then made explicit by each character in such a way that their words show us more about what we have already noticed.
I do have some conflicting feelings about some of the ways the script chooses to work. In particular, the meta-theatrical introductions to each character, which are by turns amusing and somewhat unnecessary. For example, Cheung’s (Adrien Pike) meta-introduction serves his character very well by giving him another opportunity to make jokes and charm us, but in general, I don’t find this strategy strengthened our understanding of the rest of the characters. I think it is important to give each child their opportunity to explain themselves, but I’m not sure they all need to remind us that actors are playing them in order to accomplish this. It seems to me that the meta aspect of this show, while amusing, doesn’t really serve to enhance either the exploration or the development of its point.
Overall, the show tells a story that makes me want to know more about what it’s like to be a refugee, which seems to be one of its goals, while also making me think hard about the motivations and choices that lead each of the characters to the place they occupy at the end. It’s a solid piece that contributes to the ongoing dialogue about human rights and injustice with a nuanced story and strong performances in its telling.