There's so much emotion crammed into The TAXI Project - quiet emotion, it's true, but the kind that lingers long after the lights come up - that you'll walk out of the hour-long show feeling like one of the stuffed suitcases carried by the four characters.
Written collectively by exiled writers Emma Beltran, Martha Kuwee Kumsa, Sheng Xue and Goran Simic, with the help of dramaturg Erica Kopyto and director Weyni Mengesha, the piece builds on autobiographical elements that transformed by art into a universal statement of the importance of memory, family and home.
You can get a sense of the project's history and its four narrative threads here, but the performances are so strong, so carefully evoked by Mengesha's direction, that a mere description of the four stories only suggests the work's impact. Even Jackie Chau's set conjures up its own tales with little mementos that, we eventually realize, recall each character's past life and happiness.
What's most impressive about the writing is its poetry; imagery evokes a vibrant life in a distant homeland from which each character has been forced to escape and to which each can never return. We're never allowed to forget the contemporary (and ongoing) pain caused by the loss of that happiness.
Each of the figures - from Bosnia, Mexico, Ethiopia and China - has a unique tale to tell, yet their emotional lives have touching and credible parallels: the loss of family, the sense of injustice, the pain of being uprooted. Forced into menial jobs in Canada, the quartet finds ways to connect with each other if only for a short though meaningful time.
It's an open-ended piece and feels like it's still in development, but already the actors - Miranda Edwards, Patrick Garrow, Mayahuel Tecozautla and Diana Tso - create believable characters who might define home in different ways but who share the emotional absence that defines exile.
Presented by PEN Canada and the Art for Real Change Collective, the production runs until Saturday (August 9), with recently added performances August 7 at 7:30 pm and August 9 at 2 pm. For more info, see here. The venue is small, and the midweek matinee I attended was sold out, so it's a good idea to book in advance.