The dark comedy takes place in a run-down hotel in Vancouver’s West End, and follows a group of Chilean refugees, who escaped Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship in the 1970s, as they restart their new lives in Canada.
Aguirre, who stayed at one such refugee hotel on Denman Street with her family in 1974, said two events from her life inspired her to write the play.
“One [inspiration] is my uncle, who was one of the first Chilean refugees to arrive in Vancouver, and he drank himself to death in 1995,” said Aguirre. “And then in 1998, Pinochet was arrested in London, England, and was charged with crimes against humanity.”
A history lesson for students and staff
Kathryn Shaw, artistic director of Studio 58, approached Aguirre to direct The Refugee Hotel at Langara after she read the play again and noticed similarities in current domestic politics.
“I have had the play in my sights for many years,” said Shaw in an emailed statement. “And it came to mind again when the Syrian refugee crisis and Canada’s acceptance of 25,000 Syrian refugees was front and centre in the news.”
Elizabeth Barrett, who plays the lead role of mother and former government prisoner, Flaca, said the play has been very eye-opening for the cast, none of whom is from Latin America.
“I think it’s a wonderful history lesson and an important story to tell,” said Barrett of the play’s themes. “The more education we have, the more we can avoid situations like this in the future.”
The play runs from March 23 to April 9.
“None of the characters fit the Latino stereotype that we are fed in the media, so if [people] walk away with more empathy towards refugees, that would be a huge thing,” Aguirre said.
Published in the March 16, 2017, edition of The Langara Voice
Feature image by Emily Cooper