In a summer plagued by news about the plight of refugees, the New England Arab American Organization brought to Maine a staged reading of “Lost and Guided,” an original play by Irene Kaputsina based on interviews with Syrians.

Khaled Moumneh of Falmouth had seen the play in New York City, where he is a medical student, and called his mother, Zoe Sahloul, who happens to be the organization’s executive director.

“I always tell my children these stories – stories of fear and pain – so they know they’re living in a special country,” said Sahloul, who immigrated from Lebanon with her husband, Walid Moumneh, more than two decades ago. Hearing their son’s rave reviews, they went to New York to see the play and immediately spoke with the play’s director about bringing it to Maine, which the organization did June 22 at Portland Museum of Art and June 23 at Camden Opera House.

“Our goal was to show the different faces of the refugee experience,” Sahloul said, talking about the emotional connection that’s possible even with fictionalized composite characters based on interviews.

“The play is based on real stories,” Kaputsina said. “Before war, people loved, they fought with their husbands, they had tangible lives. Many doctors came here for their residencies and stayed here, and they’d call home and hear bombs.”

New England Arab American Organization board member Rabee Kiwan lived through civil war in Lebanon and – like one of the characters in the play – is a physician here in the United States. “Tonight we’re bringing this to Maine to raise awareness of the struggles immigrants have to go through,” Kiwan said at the Portland event. “It’s about a family living a good life, and they have to leave because of the conflict in Syria and they have to endure a lot.”

More than 100 people attended the event at the museum, which included a reception, the staged reading and lively discussion.

“What this does for me is put a human face on what you see in the news for just a minute about all the refugees being turned away,” said Carlos Cuellar of Cumberland.

“The immigrant kids from war-torn regions with the most trauma are, at times, the least likely to talk about it because it’s too close,” said Kevin Murray, a special education teacher at Casco Bay High School. “But theater is one of the great therapies. In witnessing and listening, you can process.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

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