A Thousand Splendid Suns is a poignant tale about how women have suffered in Afghanistan under a patriarchal culture and a series of repressive regimes. It’s an important story, but in this case, it’s weighed down by the sheer volume of tragedy.
Adapted from the novel by Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner), the play is set mostly in Kabul during the years between the Soviet withdrawal and the American intervention after 9/11. The story follows Laila (Nadine Malouf) from her idyllic family life to her marriage to abusive and despotic Rasheed (Haysam Kadri).
Laila shares the house with Mariam (Denmo Ibrahim), Rasheed’s first wife, who resents the young interloper. Still, over time, they forge a trusting relationship as they endure Rasheed’s abuse, frequent artillery, Muslim fundamentalism, starvation and sheer, unmitigated physical pain.
If that seems like a lot – it is. Laila and Mariam move from one terrifying experience to another, with barely a pause in between. By the second act, even the small samples of joy only foreshadow impending pain. You can set your watch by it.
At first, I empathized with the characters, but after a while I just became numb. Oh, what fresh hell do we have in store now? These scenarios may be completely accurate, but they don’t really serve the story. At some point, I needed something good to happen, a brief intermission to offset the play’s unrelenting grimness. Even Schindler’s List has lighter moments.
Still, the cast steps up, particularly Malouf and Ibrahim. Their journey from mistrustful co-spouses to fast friends is nicely rendered. And despite the constant bombardment of calamities, Laila somehow maintains her sense of hope.
Overall, the production is handled quite well. The set evokes Afghanistan’s arid beauty. The music is, at times, stirring. I really wanted to like this show.
What’s happened in Afghanistan (as well as Chechnya, Eritrea, Somalia, Venezuela, Myanmar…) should be represented in every possible art form. But providing a ledger of disaster is hardly what these people deserve. The opening sequence in A Thousand Splendid Suns was so beautiful, I was really excited to see the story unfold. But, by the middle of the last act, I was just ready for it to be over.