Review: ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ premieres at A.C.T. (****)

by Charles Kruger

a-thousand-splendid-suns

This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Best selling novelist Khaled Hosseini tells sweeping tales of families caught up in the troubled history of Afghanistan. His novel, “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” tells of four generations of women living under the thumb of the Taliban. In Ursula Rani Sarma’s stage adaptation, directed by Carey Perloff, this huge story is given a full throated epic treatment, worthy of an opera, showcasing a spectacular set, thrilling performances, and a brilliant musical score.

“A Thousand Splendid Suns” offers a complex epic the likes of which is rarely seen in contemporary theatre. It’s style may be old fashioned, but it is undeniably rich, satisfying, and deeply moving.

As bombs fall and shooting fills the streets during the Afghan Civil War, 14-year-old Laila (Nadine Malouf) is preparing to flee Khabul with her parents. As Laila is packing her father’s beloved books, a bomb falls on their home, making her an orphan. She is taken in by a neighbor, Rasheed (Haysam Kadrid) and his wife Mariam (Kate Rigg). In time, Rasheed offers to take her as a second wife,she accepts, and soon she gives birth to a daughter, Aziza (Nikita Tewani).

Mariam (Kate Rigg, seated) holds Laila’s (Nadine Malouf) newborn child. Photo credit: Kevin Berne
Mariam (Kate Rigg, seated) holds Laila’s (Nadine Malouf) newborn child. Photo credit: Kevin Berne

As the war continues, and eventually the Taliban take over, the story focuses on the lives of these three generations of women, and how they are effected by history. They experience violence of all sorts as they struggle to survive, love,  and maintain autonomy in the face of Taliban oppression, learning to care for one another against all odds.

In the course of two acts, there are killings, reversals of fortunes, murders, oppression, political complexities, small victories and heartbreaking reversals, until, finally, in the end, Laila is able to escape to Pakistan and begin a new life.

It hardly needs noting that this story of the fate of refugees could not possibly be more pertinent at the present time.

Although the entire cast is as splendid as the titular suns, the play, above all else, offers an opportunity for the two actresses playing  Laila and Mariam to explore the full gamut of human emotion. These may be two of the greatest women’s roles to come along in at least a generation, making daunting demands on the actresses, and Nadine Malouf (Laila) and Kate Rigg (Mariam) are altogether wonderful.

The story moves from city to town to country, from Afghanistan to Pakistan, and the nearly cinematic set by Ken Macdonald, beautifully lit by Robert Wierze, enhances every scene. There is also a partially improvised score, performed live by composer David Coulter, which is as thoroughly integrated as a movie soundtrack, but never obtrusive.

Haysam Kadri is outstanding as Rasheed, a man whose decent instincts are compromised by culture and history, resulting in tragedy. Also excellent are Nikita Tewani as Laila’s daughter, Aziza, and a very young Neel Noronha as her son, Zalmai.

There are many excellent performances in this very large cast, which features several students from A.C.T.’s professional acting conservatory.

“A Thousand Splendid Suns” is story telling at its very best.

“A Thousand Splendid Suns” plays through February 26th at the Geary Theater. For further information click here.

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Rating: ****
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)
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“A Thousand Splendid Suns” a word premier by Ursula Rani Sarma adapted for the stage from the novel by Khaled Hosseni with original music written and performed by David Coulter. Produced by A.C.T. in association with Theatre Calgary. Director: Carey Perloff. Scenic Designer: Ken Macdonald. Costume Designer: Linda Cho. Lighting Designer: Robert Wierzel. Sound Designer: Jack Rodriguez. Movement Director: Stephen Buescher.

Cast:

Babi: Barzin Akhavan. Laila: Nadine Malouf. Fariba: Denmo Ibrahim. Rasheed: Haysam Kadri. Mariam: Kate Rigg. Abdul Sharif: Jason Kapoor. Tariq: Pomme Koch. Mullah Faizullah: Barzin Akhavan. Nana: Denmo Ibrahim. Jalil: Jason Kapoor. Wakil: Jason Kapoor. Interrogator: Barzin Akhavan. Aziza: Nikita Tewani. Doctor: Denmo Ibrahim. Zalmai: Neel Noronha. Zaman: Barzin Akhavan. Talib: Haysam Kadri. Ensemble: Rinabeth Apostol. Kaiso Hill. Terry Lamb. Melody Perera. 

 

 

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One thought on “Review: ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ premieres at A.C.T. (****)

  1. A good and accurate review (except for the small but puzzling error: she escapes to Pakistan, not to Afghanistan).
    Thanks for calling my attention to the music. The set and lighting were splendid, as was the acting. You touched all the bases.

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