We live in scary times. Posters and searches in the subway are reminders of potential terrorist attacks, which our government references to defend encroachments on civil liberties. David Gow’s ripped-from-the-headlines Arrivals focuses on these issues as it fictionalizes the nightmarish story of Maher Arar, a Syria-born Canadian detained while trying to enter this country and later deported.
Arrivals should produce shudders and inspire outrage. Unfortunately, Gow’s own outrage saps his play of potency. As we watch the senseless detention of Mohammed “Mo” El Rafi (Michael Gabriel Goodfriend), we encounter no real drama, only unconvincing caricatures in hyper-provocative situations. The Homeland Security agent (Laurence Lau) who interrogates Mo is a volcanic good cop/bad cop, who develops a conscience only after learning that Mo, like himself, is part Irish. Members of the Canadian diplomatic corps are also broadly drawn and range from Claire (Lanie MacEwan), Mo’s idealistic attorney, to the Canadian consul (Susan Jeffries), who seems modeled on Martha Stewart and Miss Manners. Claire’s battle with the consul should be Kafka-esque; instead, it’s sketch material that merely validates concerns about self-serving government representatives. Claire’s crusade, filled with sweeping pronouncements about “society,” ultimately wins Mo his freedom, after which audience members may embark on their own and demand more from their political drama.