On the lives of girls and women of Afghanistan
If I were living in the world in which the characters in A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS live, I wouldn't be writing this review. You see, I am a woman. A woman with a job. Under Taliban rule, those two things cannot, with few exceptions, co-exist. There were (and in some cases, still are) rules about how a woman must dress, when she may speak, with whom she may spend her time, and her role within the family. By all accounts, life under the Taliban rule is a man's world.
This is the world depicted in A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS, a stage adaptation based on the best-selling book by Khaled Hosseini. In this story, three generations of women struggle against the backdrop warn-torn Afghanistan, both before and after the Taliban come to power with all of their edicts about the "proper' conduct of women, among other things. It is the tale of the bonds of friendship, family, and womanhood, bonds forged by a shared plight and a struggle to survive in a world in which the odds seem insurmountably stacked against them.
Mirian Katrib as Laila, Natascha Girgis as Fariba, and Gerry Mendicino as Babiin the Grand's production of A Thousand Splendid Suns. Photo Claus Andersen
Cast together by circumstance, Laila and Mariam find themselves married to the same man, a man who seems at first blush to be a good provider and protector, but whose true colors soon come sharply into focus. Before long, he becomes an angry and domineering man, determined to exert his control over his household. Laila and Mariam struggle to make a life for their family amid the tyrrany and war that lives beyond their front door as well as the oppressive rule under which they are forced to live within their own home. The relationship between the two women evolves from one of silent tolerance into a deep friendship, the older playing a maternal role in the younger woman's life and the lives of the children she would eventually bear. Through a series of events, the family dynamics change and so does the trajectory of the women's lives.
This is a haunting story, one of oppression, upheaval, struggle, and loss. But it's more than that. It is a testament to the power of the human spirit to endure, of the unshakable bonds of female friendship, and the promise of a different tomorrow, no matter where we find ourselves today. This challenging story is told in the most beautiful way in this production, the set and the music movingly punctuating the on-stage action, driving the emotions of the story to their climax and back again.
Deena Aziz as Mariam and Anousha Alamian as Rasheed in the Grand's production of A Thousand Splendid Suns. Photo Claus Andersen
A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS changed me. During intermission, I was speaking to a woman in the lobby who had seen the show the night before. She asked me, "What do you think so far?" Struggling to put my feelings into words, all I could say was, "I don't know yet." And I didn't. It was the kind of experience that needed to marinate in my mind and on my heart for a while. By the end of the show, I walked away from the performance haunted yet hopeful, thankful for every freedom I am afforded by living in Canada, and feeling connected to a global community of women in a way I haven't felt before. This story was difficult to watch unfold in all of its unapologetic, raw honesty. There were times when I wanted to look away, unable to fathom the thought that we still live in a world where it is deemed acceptable by some to treat another human being in these oppressive, violent ways. But at the same time, watching the story unfold also further underlined the need for understanding about the plight of Afghani women and their struggle to overcome. It was a truly eye-opening experience, and one that won't soon leave me.
Mirian Katrib as Laila and Deena Aziz as Mariam, with ensemble, in the Grand's production of A Thousand Splendid Suns. Photo Claus Andersen
A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS is on the Spriet Stage at The Grand Theatre until March 31. Tickets are available at www.grandtheatre.com or by calling (519) 672-8800.