Lampedusa – Fable or Truth?

Denise and Stefano live parallel lives as they are forced to sacrifice human qualities to survive in a place that is controlled by the one per cent. The characters in Lampedusa create a friendship with a perceived ‘outsider’ which leads to their salvation in a sense.

Lampedusa is a play produced by the Pi Theatre and directed by Richard Wolfe. Although political in nature, everyone can resonate with the characters: Denise and Stefano, played by Melissa Oei and Robert Garry Haackewh, portray different facets of the human struggle. Denise is struggling with poverty, and Stefano is a migrant. Both have uncertain futures. The play is being performed from May 5 to May 21 at the VanCity Culture Lab.

The origin of Lampedusa

Wolfe, who directs the play originally written by award-winning playwright Anders Lustgarten, shares poignant remarks and details about his journey. For the director, the material itself is a reward as Lustgarten is a unique voice in his approach to the political theatre.

Characters Denise and Stefano embody human struggles shared by many | Photo by Emily Cooper

Wolfe states that even if the play deals with bitter truths, in the end, he wants the audience to understand that by recognizing the humanity in others, we can find it in ourselves. He adds that although the play deals with hard subjects, it does not render the play cynical or disheartening. Rather, it shows the impacts of systemic oppression through characters such as Denise and Stefano.

“If we are able to see the person behind the label, we can strengthen our own sense of humanity and how we feel about living in the world,” says Wolfe.

These issues that Lampedusa explores are properly researched to ensure they have merit and standing.

“In terms of exploring the real-world issues, we used documentary films, news stories and a series of cultural consultants to talk about life as they know it. This kind of contact always adds insight and nuance to the conversations we have when building a production,” he says.

Lustgarten is a structuralist, thus, if his work succeeds, then it can inspire action. Wolfe also mentions that there will be after show pieces called Encounters.

“We’ll also be doing a series of Encounter pieces after the show that will include speakers, talkbacks and panels on various topics including human migration and the gig-economy. We’ll have the specifics posted on our website,” he adds.

The Canadian premiere

Although the play is set in the United Kingdom, Wolfe decided to perform it for Canadian audiences because of the issues and their relevance to Canadians. He wanted to keep “human migration and the blunt fist of austerity in the minds of Canadians.”

Wolfe also recognizes that the play’s origin is in the United Kingdom, however the issues are global and can resonate with anyone despite their background. Many Canadians are also suffering from poverty and debt, he points out.

“There are millions of people in this country living in poverty, existing paycheque to paycheque with no savings and a staggering amount of debt,” he says.

Lampedusa and COVID-19 lockdowns

The play was originally going to be produced and shown in May 2020, but only one week of preparations were able to happen before the first lockdown took effect. There was rescheduling and adjustments made to try to show it in 2021, but then there was another mandated lockdown. It is now the team’s third attempt in trying to perform the play but the issues are becoming increasingly relevant in this day and age. It will be the Canadian premiere despite the time passed.

“I’ve been working with such a talented team of artists, consultants and production staff to breathe life into this piece for our audience. We’re looking forward to seeing them in the theatre,” says Wolfe.

Besides the ongoing struggle with COVID-19, the director stresses that every production has unique demands, but hard work, integrity and honesty are what make it bearable. He stresses that, although the production is amazing, it will be hard for an audience to attend such challenging theatre as it does touch heavy topics. However, he has faith that this play serves everyone in Vancouver.

“We hope people leave the theatre looking at the strangers they pass by in their day to day lives in a more open, kind and connected way,” says Wolfe.

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