By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
One of the beautiful things about theatre, and art in general, is that it has a way of putting faces to the faceless, giving voices to the voiceless and educating audiences by showing them human experiences- such is the case of Arena Stage’s A Thousand Splendid Suns. The play, adapted by Ursula Rani Sarma based on the book by celebrated writer Khaled Hosseini tells the story of how two women navigate the changes in their families and lives in a war torn, Taliban controlled Afghanistan.
While the story is fictional, it comes with real challenges, such as war, religious and social values and oppression, particularly for the lives of women. Directed by Carey Perloff, in Arena Stage’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, despite the hard images of brutality against women, male privilege and death, audiences leave educated, empowered and, in a refreshing way, uplifted, as there’s a semblance of hope.
The performances from each cast member were incredibly honest, tragically beautiful and, at times, incredibly infuriating. Although there are three, clearly main characters, Laila (Miriam Katib), Mariam (Hend Ayoub) and Rasheed (Haysam Kadri), the show is clearly an ensemble play. Each character communicates with one another to make for a narrative that is enticing all the while educational for those that know very little about the Taliban, Afghanistan and oppression. Further the entire ensemble’s commitment to the storytelling was apparent from the beginning to the end of the show and allowed for audiences to become part of the action, as opposed to just outside viewers. In fact, at the Jan. 24 performance of A Thousand Splendid Suns, audiences were so involved in the action, that many people often audibly exclaimed their feelings towards the play’s action.
Kadri in character is sometimes hard to watch on stage, but incredibly honest in his portrayal of the brutish Rasheed. His desires, hopes and dreams are clearly tainted and formulated by values of a war-torn country controlled by the Taliban. Kadri’s commitment to the ruthlessness of Rasheed was so truthful, that while he garnered a standing ovation, some audience members booed him for his character’s qualities- a compliment to actors playing antagonists.
Ayoub as Mariam is incredibly powerful even in her silence. Watching Ayoub perform is a master class in being a grounded actor, even in moments of high intensity and chaos. Her physicality as Mariam was at times very heavy, which was in stark contrast to the moments where she seemed light as a feather.
Katrib as Laila is engaging from the moment she steps on stage to the end. Katrib has the tricky responsibility of aging, keeping secrets and making plans throughout the entire play. As most of the action surrounds Katrib’s character Laila, audiences become incredibly invested in her work, and she beautifully invites them into her narrative. As humans it’s difficult to balance several emotions at once and as an actor it’s even harder to play different nuances; however Katrib is able to do so in such a way that audiences completely buy into her challenges, hopes and vision for the future.
Another notable performance included that of Antoine Yared, who played Tariq. The character of Tariq also ages throughout the play, and with a physical impediment, Yared completely makes the role believable. His portrayal of Tariq oozes a necessary sense of humor, gentleness and love that is not seen very much in A Thousand Splendid Suns.
In addition to the aforementioned actors, the entire cast was strong and essential to the narrative and actions in the play.
With the strong performances also came an impressive creative team, with costumes (Linda Cho), lighting (Robert Wierzel), sound (Jake Rodriguez) and set (Ken MacDonald) designs that helped in the clarity of the story and its settings. Every technical element was perfectly executed, efficient and aesthetically and euphoniously pleasing, only heightening the strength of Perloff’s directorial vision.
Arena Stage’s production of A Thousand Splendid Suns, which runs until March 1, is a great production that truly will leave audiences on the edge of their seats and doing research once the play is over. For more information on the production, visit www.arenastage.org/tickets/1920-season/a-thousand-splendid-suns/.