The airport experience is stressful. Getting to the airport on time to check in, getting through security, and landing the ever-coveted overhead luggage space. It Is easy to become annoyed with the people around you, the screaming infant on the 6am flight, and the flight delays that may cause you to miss your connection. Though anxiety inducing, we forget how extraordinary airports can be, acting as reflection or microcosm of the world they connect. Think of that moment of seeing someone step out of the gate. For a moment, we forget all the anger, mistrust, and unhappiness we may encounter from day to day.
Jonathan Dove’s Flight is Inspired by the story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, an Iranian refugee who, when trying to immigrate to Great Britain, lost his papers and was stranded in Charles de Gaulle airport for 18 years. When learning of this story, Dove sensed an almost mythical quality in this man:
“A man trapped between two worlds, living in a kind of limbo. It made us think about what an extraordinary place an airport is, how full of stories, hopes and dreams. We wondered what kind of people the refugee might have met, and how he might have tried to enlist their help.”
Flight was written in a pre-9/11 world. The audience will not see or hear mention of police dogs, “See something, say something,” or not-so-random security checks. It is a return to a time where travelers did not have phones and screens to occupy their time during a long layover, a family could wait for their love ones at the terminal gate, or a person could disappear into anonymity.
In our story, the Refugee acts as the great watcher. Stranded in an airport, he spends his days scavenging for food, asking for money from passengers, and avoiding the authorities. In spite of the labors of day-to-day survival, his music and text fill the opera with an enthusiasm for the airport’s fantastical nature. When a storm grounds all flights, he connects with three couples, Bill and Tina, Minskman and Minskwoman, and Steward and Stewardess. He observes their relationships and personal struggles, then elicits them for help. Also observing the travelers’ comings and goings is the Controller, an embodiment of the airport, who sits cynically in her high tower, sending planes into the air, judging passengers, and arguing with the Refugee, for whose wellbeing she secretly feels responsible.
We may see ourselves in these three couples. Concerns about marriage, career, love, and romance may monopolize our thoughts, drawing our attention away from the people surrounding us. The needs of those less fortunate become eclipsed by our personal problems. These travelers fail to take notice of the Refugee. Even when he attempts to engage them, they don’t know how to interact with him. Think of the homeless person at the street corner. While sitting in the car, we may not know how to engage, to make eye contact, or whether to roll down your window and give him a dollar. When we drive away, do we give him a second thought? When a storm strands these people in the airport overnight, their sequester compels them to bond with each other as they delve deep into their personal dilemmas. It takes an act of God for the passengers to bond with the Refugee and protect him in a time of crisis.
The show offers no solutions for the Refugee’s crisis for the simple reason that there are no easy answers. He never speaks of his home country and we never learn his name so as not to pinpoint one specific humanitarian crisis and diminish the span and complexity of human rights issues across the globe. What this show asks of its audience Is to see themselves in a shared airport experience and leave asking, “What would I do? What can I do?”
David Radamés Toro
Reprisal Stage Director