Author Khaled Hosseini is known for his eloquent fiction, receiving critical acclaim for his portrayal of the beauty of Afghanistan and depiction of the universality of the human condition. His novels have been adapted to stage and as motion pictures to generally positive reviews.
However, each adaptation came up short in capturing the emotional intensity achieved in Hosseini’s storytelling. Until now.
Award-winning playwright Ursula Rani Sarma’s adaptation of Hosseini’s New York Times bestseller “A Thousand Splendid Suns” is nothing short of a theatrical triumph. Premiering in 2017 at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater, the production finally made its East Coast debut at Arena Stage.
The play follows the unlikely friendship between Laila and Mariam, who find themselves bonded by their society’s attack against women and their rights. Though they come from opposing backgrounds and generations, the women forge a lifelong bond, a plot device that offers compelling commentary on transcendent aspects of womanhood.
The stage adaptation is extremely successful in translating the enormousness of the story, its characters and its meaning. All senses are aggressively engaged in this production. Ken MacDonald’s set design is versatile and just barren enough to believably represent coup-ridden Kabul/Herit in the ’90s. David Coulter’s original music is dynamic and dramatic, the perfect copilot to the play’s heavy plot.
Actors Hend Ayoub (Mariam) and Mirian Katrib (Laila) are incredible forces that lead their fellow actors vallianty. In violent scenes that were almost too difficult to watch, Ayoub and Katrib refuse to shy away from the rawness of those moments. Actor Haysam Kadri (Rasheed/Fight Captain) also gives a memorable performance, successfully embodying the hate and fear of a generation.
Director Carey Perloff, a longtime friend of Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith, said the production “belongs in Washington, D.C.”
Perloff statement is met with collective agreement, especially when she mentions the current state of Middle Eastern affairs.
Perloff also says what makes this show special is its depiction of “female friendship onstage.” Theater is dominated by stories that are centered in white, male friendships. What makes this production magnificent, along with superb acting and visual and auditory elements, is its depiction of the bond between women.
In this sociopolitical climate, representation of brown and black women in different spaces, in different forms, is paramount. “A Thousand Splendid Suns” is vivid and evocative, but ultimately ends in an offering of hope and a better future to come.