Posted at TimesofSanDiego.com on 3/31/18
RUN DATES: 3/23/18 – 4/29/18
VENUE: The Old Globe
“The only skill you need,” her mother tells young Mariam, is “Tahamul.” Endurance.
And endure Mariam must – a tormented rural childhood followed by an abusive, barren marriage.
And then Laila comes into her life: free-spirited Laila, who is urban, privileged, educated and blissfully happy – until a bomb destroys her home and family. Desperate and penniless, she agrees to marry Mariam’s monstrous husband – becoming his younger, more fertile second wife.
The place is Kabul. The time is 1979 to 2001, during the Afghan civil war, just before the U.S. invasion.
In “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” adapted from the marvelous 2007 novel by Kabul-born Californian Khaled Hosseini, we watch Mariam try to sabotage her rival. But over time, and of necessity, they become friends, allies, mutually supportive survivors. They are the only light in a bleak, brutal country ruled by violent men and vicious Taliban extremists, who repress women in every possible way.
Against the harsh cruelty of their surroundings, these two women exhibit resilience, defiance, indomitable spirit and the indestructible power of maternal love. Along the way, a few caring men help or nurture them, but the horrors they endure are many, and their simple joys are few.
Ursula Rani Sarma’s adaptation was commissioned by the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, where it premiered last year. At The Old Globe, the A.C.T. and Theatre Calgary production is as splendid as its poetic title.
The story plays out simultaneously on a large and small canvas, reflecting both the big political picture and its horrific personal costs.
The mountainous landscape is beautifully, imagistically depicted. The superb staging, by A.C.T.’s soon-to-be-former artistic director, the innovator Carey Perloff, keeps the action and set pieces moving seamlessly.
The cast is marvelous, anchored by the two gut-wrenching, heart-breaking central performances of Nadine Malouf as Laila and Denmo Ibrahim as Mariam.
Heightening the mood is David Coulter’s hauntingly beautiful score, much of it played on the musical saw, well paired with evocative lighting and sound.
You’ll be appalled and horrified, and yet there is such admirable endurance – Tahamul— here, and heroism and humanity, too. And always, the enduring hope of a better, freer life.
©2018 PAT LAUNER, San Diego Theater Reviews