A Thousand Splendid Suns:
Seeing the Sunrise Starts with Survival
Note from the editor:
I recently finished teaching a series on feminist/queer theatre criticism to teens at TeenTix - a local organization that empowers teens to engage in the Seattle arts and performance scene. The classes I taught were a part of the Press Corps Intensive, a five week series of workshops that prepares teens to enter the professional world of arts criticism. Throughout my experience of teaching, I was both encouraged and impressed by the level of deep engagement, levity, and nuanced political and social analysis that the teens brought to the table. This review, by Jaiden Borowski, is an example of this work. I am hoping that in sharing the review here, and with the Seattle theatre scene is general, it will begin to open up a dialogue surrounding the importance of including the voices of youth and teens in our arts circles. As one of my favorite local organizations Youth Speaks says, the “youth right now are the truth right now!”
With courage and roses,
The opening scene in the theatrical adaptation of A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Ursula Rani Sarma, contrasts the entire play with the eerie stillness it sets the audience in. By piercing the quiet atmosphere with sharp, lingering notes, this scene stills the air and makes the audience pause for breath. From the next scene onwards, the audience is kept in silence not by the moving musical accompaniment, but by the paralyzing horror with which the play unfolds. The first scene wraps around the audience with the unnervingly gentle, yet strong, sound of David Coulter’s original score performed live. As he is slowly pulled across the stage on a lengthy sheet of fabric, we are introduced to the sole man who effectively ties novel instruments -- including a violin, thunder sheets, and even a saw -- to the emotional landscape that the characters traverse.
We first meet one of the main characters, Laila (a role that is passionately performed by Rinabeth Apostol), with her father (performed thoughtfully by John Farrage) as they read poetry together. This innocent scene does nothing to prepare the audience for the further torment Laila will endure. For the time being though, it beautifully shows the deep connection between the father, Babi, and his daughter. Their connection contrasts the future of ruins with the perfect present, and its perfection hints at a greater danger to come. As the two characters read poems of Kabul, they not only sing the praises of their beautiful city but intertwine their love with profound anguish. Their pain stems from the loss of their city, the very place they hold dear, due to the dangers of a war-torn country that forces them to leave.
We learn that Laila knows loss well as her two older brothers were killed when she was young. However, if Laila thinks she understands irreversible sorrow from losing her brothers to their courage, her mother to grief, and her homeland to war, then she cannot begin to comprehend the greater suffering she is to undergo.
As the play progressed and more horrors were added to Laila’s sorrows, though, it was I who struggled to comprehend the sum of her troubles. Whether it was my unwillingness to understand what unfolding before my eyes, or the pure shock of reality, I resisted the truth that was set before me. Eventually, the play forced me to accept that this was a reality for many through its painfully stunning portrayal of Laila and Mariam’s interconnected lives.
As we see Laila hastily married to a husband, Rasheed (played by Haysam Kadri), with an unwelcoming wife, Mariam (played by Denmo Ibrahim), after the bombing of Laila’s own home and the death of her parents, things only go downhill from there. It is through Mariam, the husband’s older, first wife, and Laila’s struggles that we see the determination and perseverance that helps them survive and overcome their hardships. The terrible difficulties the two women face, alone, against each other, and finally as companions, ultimately provide the chance for the audience to see the beautiful journey the two take towards liberation.
A Thousand Splendid Suns Produced by: Seattle Repertory Theater
A Thousand Splendid Suns by: Ursula Rani Sarma
A Thousand Splendid Suns Directed by: Carey Perloff
A Thousand Splendid Suns performed at: Seattle Repertory Theater
Production Dates: October 5 – November 10, 2018
This article was originally written for and published on the TeenTix blog. It was written as part of the Fall 2018 TeenTix Press Corps Intensive, a multi-week arts going and arts criticism training program. The Press Corps Program promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. TeenTix is a youth empowerment and arts access non-profit. For more information about TeenTix see HERE. To learn more about the Press Corps program see HERE.