Not many people could say that their address was Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris, France. Then again, not many people call an airport their home for 16 years. This was the reality for Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian refugee who was stuck living in the airport between 1988 and 2006. Nasseri’s story was the inspiration for the play Terminal Terminal written by fourth year Concordia theatre and development student Bryan James and opening at the M.A.I. theatre this week.
James, who won the Canadian theatre prize the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Theatre Arts, said the play started as an assignment in playwriting class. James based the play on the idea of what it would be like to have a conversation with Nasseri and discover how he managed his day to day life inside the airport.
Terminal Terminal’s director Deborah Forde, has difficulty understanding how someone copes under those conditions.
“He has been living in the airport for 16 years, so where does he have sex?,” she asked playfully.
Both James and Nasseri were unimpressed with the motion picture version of Nasseri’s story. According to them, the film version, The Terminal starring Tom Hanks, could not be further from the truth .
“The best part of this play is how human and real it is,” Forde said. “Because of how human it is, it’s hysterical” Forde says she still laughs during rehearsals with James, even after working on it for a year.
What is so original about Terminal Terminal is large amount of audience participation. As Nasseri, James speaks directly to the audience as if they were strangers having coffee with him while waiting to board a flight.
Nasseri became trapped in the airport after his passport was stolen en route to Britain. Because he had no papers the British authorities send him back to France. But as a Iranian refugee living in Belgium he had to present himself in person to get new documents. However, since he had no documents or identification papers, he could not purchase a plane ticket. If he left the airport, he would have been imprisoned in France.
When Forde first approached this play, she believed that Nasseri was “crazy for living in an airport,” but as time went by she started to question if society were crazy. “He had a pretty good life from where he was coming from and what he had to face,” explained Forde.
Both Forde and James expect audiences to enter this play feeling sorry for Nasseri and his situation, only to leave this play questioning why they feel sorry for him.
“This man had his identity ripped away from him. Living in Canada, we often feel secure, but this play is also a warning that anyone can become like Nasseri,” Forde said.
Terminal Terminal, also references the plight of Maher Arar, a Canadian man who was unjustly deported to Syria, where he was tortured.
Nasseri’s story may have had its happy-go-lucky Hollywood version, but audiences should expect a more realistic account when Terminal Terminal takes flight this week.
Terminal Terminal plays from Nov. 26 to 28 at The M.A.I. Theatre, 3680 Rue Jeanne-Mance, as part of the Student Initiation Production Assignment festival. Two performances on Friday and Saturday. Tickets $20, $15 students.