WNPR

New Haven Area Refugees Share Their Stories In "The American Unicorn"

Jun 10, 2018

A new play at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre integrates the stories of real refugees trying to make a new life for themselves in the Elm City.

Seven refugees, clients of New Haven's Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, or IRIS, have spent the last nine months bringing this theater piece to life. The end result - The American Unicorn, a glimpse into the refugee experience.

“As a new immigrant, it's like you can't see, you can't hear, you can't talk. You feel like you got lost,” said Syrian refugee Mohamad Chaghlil in a scene from the play. “But actually, you still have the basic things you need to find your way again.”

Long Wharf's community engagement manager Elizabeth Nearing said The American Unicorn is a fable that uses the mythological symbols of the unicorn and the Medusa as a unifying force.

“So the idea is that the symbol of the unicorn is something that is hope, and love, and magic, and this kind of joy that is bigger than life,” said Nearing. “And a Medusa is a kind of fear that's bigger than life, that's paralyzing.”

And Nearing said those symbols mean something different for each refugee performer.

“The unicorn and the Medusa are inside us - all of us - the Americans, the immigrants, the refugees, all have it too,” said Mohamad Chaghlil.

Conflict, violence, and instability forced them to flee their countries. Nearing said the months of writing and rewriting the script, as well as learning stagecraft, diction and movement, have brought these performers together in a unique way.

“In this piece, no one is alone,” said Nearing. “We have a group of eight people who are all there to support each other's stories. And Joseph Kazadi (a performer in The American Unicorn, and a refugee from the Democratic Republic of the Congo) one day at rehearsal said ‘Now I know that this isn't just my story. Your story is my story and my story is your story,’ which I think is a really beautiful way of putting that shared weight of telling their stories. That they can lean back on each other.”