A Gut-Wrenching Story of Women in Afghanistan
A Thousand Splendid Suns, now on stage at London’s Grand Theatre, doesn’t match its name. One might think of happy times, under a warm sun, but that’s not what we find here. It is a gut-wrenching story of life in Afghanistan, centred on two women. Creatively presented, with brilliant acting, it offers a learning experience that Canadians struggle to comprehend.
In the opening scene, the name is appropriate. We see a happy teenage girl, listening to her father read poetry, while her mother is busy packing. The line “a thousand splendid suns” comes from a poem. But the happiness is short-lived. We learn that their city, Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, is being bombed, and fearing for their lives, they need to escape to Peshawar in Pakistan as refugees. Mother is distraught, having lost her sons in the war, Father is resigned to giving up his books, and the daughter, Laila, is miserable about being separated from her boyfriend.
Before they can get away, their home is bombed, and the parents killed. A neighbour takes in Laila, and she recuperates in his home. He brings word that her boyfriend is also killed, and proposes that she become his second wife. With no other options, she agrees. His first wife, Mariam, is bitter and angry. But as their husband, Rasheed, becomes more and more brutal, the two women grow to care for each other, and Laila’s two children.
The Taliban takes control, dropping leaflets on the city, which list the new rules. Women cannot work outside the home, they must wear burqas covering themselves in public, and they must obey their husbands, who can use any force or punishment necessary. Men must grow beards.
The play is a study in hardship, filled with violence and brutality. Just when you think things can’t get worse, they do. The well-written script, together with the superior acting, draws in the audience, even when they try to distance themselves.
There are little reminders throughout that this should, indeed, touch our lives. It’s not something that is happening in a foreign land, outside of our context. For example, at one point, the daughter is having fun, recreating scenes from Titanic; we presume she had just seen the movie. I had a flashback to my own children doing the same thing. These are moms, playing with their kids, just like any other mom, except they are living in unbelievable oppression.
The development of the two women, Laila (Mirian Katrib) and Mariam (Deena Aziz), makes the plot so gripping. Katrib gives us Laila who is just a child in the beginning, but who is forced to mature too quickly. In contrast, Aziz’s Mariam is cold and hardened, and then becomes gentle and playful with the children. Both actors are brilliant in portraying this growth and carrying the story.
The message is so important. As Director Haysam Kadri points out in his notes in the programme, this play “offers perspective and a new depth of gratitude for luxuries, rights and comforts I have selfishly taken for granted, for myself for much of my life, and now, for my own daughters.”
While A Thousand Splendid Suns play leaves you exhausted and drained, it is a must-see, for the intense acting, the compelling story, and the learning experience.
A Thousand Splendid Suns continues at the Grand Theatre, London until March 21. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593 or visit www.grandtheatre.com.
Photo: Left: Mirian Katrib as Laila, Natascha Girgis as Fariba, and Gerry Mendicino as Babiin. Right: Mirian Katrib as Laila and Deena Aziz as Mariam, with ensemble. Photos by Claus Andersen
Special Note – there will be a benefit performance of A Thousand Splendid Suns with proceeds to the charity Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan on Saturday, March 24, 2:00 pm.
A Thousand Splendid Suns
Adapted by Ursula Rani Sarma
Based on a novel by Khaled Hosseini
Directed by Haysam Kadri
Based on the original staging by Carey Perloff
Performed by Anousha Alamian, Shelly Antony, Deena Aziz, Hayden Baertsoen, Natascha Girgis, Tarick Glancy, Jessica Grossi, Marian Katrib, Omar Alex Khan, Gerry Mendicino, Baraka Rahmani
Grand Theatre, London, Ontario, Canada
March 13 to 31, 2018
Reviewed by Mary Alderson