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‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’

First slide

 

Haunting music plays as the lights come up across a minimal but effective set with actors dragging colorful carpets loaded down with household items back and forth across the stage. The audience is then introduced to a family of three who are packing to flee Kabul, Afghanistan, while rockets and explosions are heard going off in the distance. One rocket gets a little too close, destroying the home and orphaning a teenager named Laila (played by Mirian Katrib). She is injured and wakes to being cared for by a man named Rasheed (played by Haysam Kadri) and his wife, Mariam (played by Hend Ayoub), who is immediately resentful of the young girl who captures Rasheed’s affection and attention.

 

The 2007 novel “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini was first adapted for the stage in California in 2017. It made its East coast debut at Arena Stage in Washington last month.

 

“No artist has done more to bring Afghanistan into the American consciousness than Hosseini,” said Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith. “His novels, which include the internationally bestselling ‘The Kite Runner,’ ‘And the Mountains Echoed,’ and ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns,’ ask us to see Afghans not as faceless statistics, but as human beings who love, struggle and yearn.”

 

Throughout the play, Laila’s life unfolds as flashbacks of happier times that include a boy she grew up with named Tariq (played by Antoine Yared), whom she secretly loves. After finding out about her parents’ death, she feels hopeful she can go live with Tariq and his family — but learns from a man Rasheed brings to the house that they are all dead.

 

She quickly agrees to marry Rasheed — much to the annoyance of Mariam — for fear of being sent to live on the street, and for an important reason revealed later.

 

As Mariam and Laila learn to cohabitate as wives to the same cruel man, they share stories about themselves and become confidants and eventually friends.

 

In the first act, the audience learns that Laila’s somewhat privileged life started out happy and she was loved and doted on by her parents. She now lives in sadness and fear — especially after giving birth to a baby girl, Aziza, that Rasheed barely tolerates and even tries to kill after a scene in which Laila and Mariam try to flee the country and run away from the abusive household.

 

Mariam shares that she started life in a sad situation as the illegitimate child of a father who discarded and ignored her, and a resentful mother who mistreated her and committed suicide. Mariam therefore saw marriage to Rasheed, more than 20 years her senior, as an escape to a hopefully happy life. This quickly sours as he abuses her after she miscarries multiple children.

 

As time passes, the women lean on each other even more as “surrogate mother and daughter.” They face challenges that include Laila becoming pregnant with a son named Zalmai (played by Ravi Mampara), who is overly spoiled by Rasheed; a now older Aziza (played by Nikita Tewani) is sent to an orphanage due to financial hardship; and living under a Taliban-controlled country with many of their rights stripped away add to the abuses they suffer.

 

The more than two-hour play only scratches the surface of the nearly 400-page novel, but the show “has the heartbeat of the book, and really focuses on the journey of the women and their friendship,” said Director Carey Perloff. “It’s rare to find a play about a female friendship and about generations of women raising and caring for each other.”

 

Much of the story is heartbreaking, and it is compelling to see the courage Mariam and Laila exhibit as they struggle to help one another survive and come to truly love one another.

 

Watch out for: Scenes of war including loud noises and flashing lights, beatings and mistreatment of women, non-graphic sexual encounters, themes of suicide and murder.

If you go

“A Thousand Splendid Suns” runs through March 1 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., S.W., Washington. For more info go to arenastage.org.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020