When REFUGE was in rehearsals for a production in 2001, the director sent a few questions about the piece. In case it's of interest...
How did you come up with the name of the play?
The play was originally titled "Flesh And Blood," because of the communion element in the story, the emphasis on family connections, and because of the one Jewish school of thought that says you can only be forgiven by the person who's been wronged, "or by their flesh and blood."
But a local playwright and theatre critic had a play out at that time also called Flesh And Blood, so we figured it would be best to change the title. I had about three days to find a new one, started looking through Shakespeare and the Bible for cool-sounding pertinent quotes, and when I found the passage in Isaiah I was very taken with the resonances not only with deception and retribution, but also the connection with the "hiding place" involved in the play, and therefore other well-known Dutch holocaust stories such as "The Hiding Place" and "The Diary Of Anne Frank." And certainly the complex idea of our sins being "hid in Christ."
The structure is unusual. Can you comment on that?
I got the idea of the Jewish man's initial mysterious appearance (the incident of stopping at the stoplight / seeing the man at the bus stop) when I had exactly that experience while preparing to write the play. (I was in something of an altered state after viewing an extraordinary production of A LIE OF THE MIND at the Vancouver Playhouse). So I played the story through, alternating between escalating scenes with this mysterious man and scenes without him, only coming to realize in the course of writing that his presence related the increasing threat experienced by Rudi from "the real world," as the accusations and court case materialize. The more extreme "dream occurrances" weren't really pre-planned, but came out during the writing of the first draft during a 24-hour playwriting competition at what was then called The New Play Centre in Vancouver: I think I was practically in a dream state myself while writing them, no exaggeration. I would fall asleep sitting at the computer, and wake up to find three pages of "j" or "x" or... Or the climactic scene of the play.
A couple years ago I watched Peter Weir's THE LAST WAVE, which I'd seen 20 or 25 years ago and which made a huge impact on me at the time, though I could remember few details – another "altered state" theatrical experience. Revisiting the film some years after completing the initial version of REFUGE OF LIES, I was astonished to see the escalating appearances of the aboriginal man outside the house, at the door, inside the house, etc., and to re-encounter the idea of "dream time." I had completely forgotten about both aspects of the film, but clearly see how they worked themselves into my play.
I wove in the Paraguay flashback scenes and some present-time Simon scenes in the next phase of script development, when Stuart Scadron-Wattles commissioned the piece for its premiere at Theatre & Company in Kitchener, Ontario – a really fine production that featured Ted Follows in the role of Rudi. Revisiting the play now, for the Firebones production in New York, I fleshed out the role of Rachel with Libby Skala in mind.
What character or cultural background creates the language style?
When I moved from Calgary to Vancouver in 1978 I found myself in a community church founded by a bunch of people who had left the Mennonite denomination to start their own little fellowship in a college cafeteria. So I kind of picked up their culture by osmosis – foods, scraps of Low German, all those Wiebes and Reimers and Neufelds. I'd also known some Dutch people here and there, so there's a blending of the two cultures, as there would be in Rudi's marriage. Since initially creating the play, my family and I have ended up at a Mennonite Brethren church – it's not just the pacifism: damn, those Mennonites can make music! – and I've been able to nuance some of the details in my revisions for this production.
Also in those ensuing years, I got to know a couple who are subscribers to Pacific Theatre (my company in Vancouver), and when I began this round of rewrites it dawned on me that they may have known Jacob Luitjens, whose case precipitated the writing of my play. It turns out that in fact they'd served on the ministerial team at the church where he was a member. I invited them to the round-table development readings this spring, and their comments further informed several details.