by Kevin M. Thomas, @ReelKev
The American Conservatory Theater has beat filmmakers to the punch in bringing to life Khaled Hosseini’s second novel as the stage production debuted in San Francisco and plays through Feb. 26
A follow-up to his “The Kite Runner,” Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns” is more of a focus of a mother/daughter relationship while his first novel was more from a father/son point of view.
But to say it’s a story of women bonding is over simplifying the deep roots of a story of two women who meet and grow up into a family during a war torn Kabul. Through the women’s eyes and Hosseini’s words, adapted for the stage by Ursula Rani Sarma, we learn there’s a bigger war at home: the war between men and women.
Mariam (Kate Rigg) and the younger Laila (Nadine Malouf) soon learn that their intelligence, humanity, education, future and overall spirit is in the hands of a man. In this case, Rasheed (Hayman Kadri) has every right to do what he wants with them as he is the man and they are just
The book and play remind us that this antiquated notion is still a current view of those in Afghanistan. The play easily makes a time stamp on the show being contemporary with reference to the movie “Titanic” of all things.
The “law” that says women can be beaten and even killed by stepping out of line (having an opinion or traveling alone) would make one believe the setting is from decades long past. While the show does transcend several decades, the laws don’t change. So women live in a world of fear and violence and seem to have very few moments of kindness, love, understanding and equality. The laws precluding women from any sort of joy and opportunities prove that these rules were written by prejudicial, hateful men.
During most of the show, it’s easy to sympathize with our two leads, especially with the exemplary work of both Rigg and Malouf. The are well matched by Kadri’s Rasheed, who spews hate and entitlement with every word he says. At first one understands – not sympathizes – with Rasheed as this is the way he was brought up and conditioned. It’s evident when he and Laila have children in which the girl is pretty much thrown aside and the boy is empowered. But at some point, Rasheed does go to a very dark place as does this riveting play.
In a show of violence against women and war, it’s not to say that “A Thousand Splendid Suns” is a completely devoid of humanity. There are many moments of great love between the self-made family the two women create as well as a blossoming love story between a woman and man who obviously doesn’t follow the laws of the land.
Director Carey Perloff manages to keep the story moving and on point, combing several scene changes and flashback sequences in a matter of seconds. Composer David Coulter’s incidental music well compliments these quick changes and overall tone of the production.
The film rights were purchased in 2009 and was actively been developed for the movies until it was put on hold in 2015.
Thank you ACT for bringing this story to life. For tickets and information, go to www.act-sf.org.