TR Robertson — It’s emotional, it’s riveting, it’s painful, and it is a story of perseverance, struggle and friendship in a country where women continue to battle for rights once granted only to men. “A Thousand Splendid Suns” is currently on stage at the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage at the Old Globe Theatre, Conrad Prebys Theatre Center. The play is based on the book of the same name, written by Khaled Hosseini. Hosseini is also the best-selling author of The Kite Runner and And the Mountains Echoed. He was inspired to write the novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, after a visit to Afghanistan and witnessing and interviewing women as they struggle for freedoms in a country still oppressing women’s rights in the 21st Century.
Hosseini’s novel covers a time period in the cities of Kabul and Herat, Afghanistan, between 1979 and 2001, when the Soviet Union was withdrawing from the country and a brutal regime of the Taliban was surfacing, bringing with them what can only be described as the return to medieval rules and regulations for the country. Ursula Rani Sarma, Irish Indian award winning playwright, poet and screenwriter has taken the novel and written a play that centers on Laila and Mariam, two strong women who develop a lasting relationship as they fight to survive in the oppressive constraints of a society structured to keep women in subservient roles.
Photos by Kevin Berne
The Globe play is directed by Carey Perloff, an award winning director and the current Artistic Director of American Conservatory Theater. The play is beautifully staged with a set, backdrop and props designed by Scenic Designer Ken MacDonald, mood shifting lighting by Lighting Designer Robert Wiersel and more than effective costuming by Costume Designer Linda Cho. Add to this the haunting musical sounds of David Coulter’s musical saw/singing saw to create the variety of moods this play goes through as you watch the story of the struggles and development the two women go through.
The emotions and empathy the audience goes through is due to a wonderful performance and interaction between Nadine Malouf, who plays Laila, and Denmo Ibrahim, who plays Mariam. Laila’s life goes through an upheaval when her family is killed by a missile attack in Kabul. She is taken in by a neighbor, Rasheed, played by Haysam Kadri. His performance was so good the audience didn’t know whether to applaud him at the end or boo him for his presentation of the brutal husband. Rasheed is older and is married to Mariam. Rasheed convinces Laila it is in her best interest to marry him. The tension between Mariam and the younger Laila, 15 years old at this stage of her life, causes a rift in the family and misery for Rasheed. As the years pass by, the Taliban enters into the life of the Afghan people, Rasheed bends to the oppressive rules the Taliban imposes on the people and Laila and Mariam slowly begin to bond. The issues today involving marital abuse is brought out when Rasheed tells the women, “What a man does in his own home is his own business”. Laila brings a child into the world, the play showing the horrible conditions women endured in a country lacking proper facilities, at that time, for child birth. As the play continues, the two women begin to feel their only chance to survive from the brutalities of Rasheed is to flee to Pakistan. This decision echoes what Miriam says when the women first meet, “We will find a way”. What the women go through to escape and try to establish a better life brought applause and cheers from the audience. The sacrifice Mariam makes would bring tears for some.
A strong supporting cast members includes Lanna Joffrey, Joseph Kamal, Jason Kapoor, Nikita Tewani, Mondis Vakili, Antoine Yared, Kris Zarif, Abraham German, and Arden Pala.
This is an emotional play that offers some insight into what life must have been like in Afghanistan prior to 9/11 and the U.S. involvement in fighting the Taliban. It will draw you into a world people in the United States have not seen in this country and a culture many find hard to understand. It will be hard to watch for some, but a play well worth taking in to see what people went through to try and live their lives and survive during an oppressive time.
“A Thousand Splendid Suns” will run through June 17th at the Old Globe Theatre. Ticket prices start at $30 and are available by calling 619-234-5623 or go to www.TheOldGlobe.org.