Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Pipeline
Director Carey Perloff, who shows complete command of the work in her staging, commissioned Ursula Rani Sarma's adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's bestselling novel and premiered this production at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco where she was artistic director for 25 years. The visual aspects are stunning from the opening panorama of translucent mountains in front of a glowing sky that resembles pierced paper art and a spherical wire sculpture representing the sun (set design by Ken MacDonald, lighting design by Robert Wierzel).
The story is set in Kabul, Afghanistan, beginning in 1992 as Mujahideen forces fight the communist government and continuing through the rise of the Taliban. Laila (Mirian Katrib), the bookish 15-year-old daughter of a professor (Joseph Kamal), is caught in a bombing attack and, after convalescing in the home of Rasheed (Haysam Kadri) and Mariam (Hend Ayoub), is forced to make uncomfortable choices to ensure her safety. The backbone is the progression of the relationship between the women, which begins with Mariam's resentment and Laila's helplessness and ultimately becomes a compelling bond. Note: The drama includes many violent incidents, which Perloff and choreographer Stephen Buescher convey through stylized movement and striking visual images.
Katrib and Ayoub give radiant performances as women who experience horrifying losses and betrayals yet survive and find joy where it occurs.
Hosseini and Sarma take the time to bring out the motivations behind each of the main characters: Even Rasheed, who dominates the women's lives "for their own good" and berates them for not meeting his expectations, has an amiable side that comes out with his young son (played at different ages by Ravi Mampara and Justin Xavier Poydras). Most intriguing is the way Laila and Mariam, both thwarted in their desire for education, find a way around Taliban strictures to ensure a better future for Laila's daughter Aziza (Nikita Tewani).
A Thousand Splendid Suns runs through March 1, 2020, at Arena Stage, Kreeger Theater, Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 6th St. SW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-488-3300 or visit www.arenastage.org
Adapted by Ursula Rani Sarma