“A Thousand Splendid Suns” is presently playing at Arena Stage until March 1, 2020. The adaption of the 2007 best seller by Khaled Hosseini was done by Ursula Rani Sarma. It made its world premiere at American Conservatory Theater in 2017. Carey Perloff is directing this fine cast which includes Hend Ayoub as Mariam, Lanna Joffrey as Fariba/Nana, Joseph Kamal as Babi/Zaman/Interrogator, Mirian Katrib as Laila, Ravi Mampara as Zalmai, and Antonie Yared as Tariq/Driver with Sarah Corey and Yousof Sultani as Ensemble.
The creative team includes Ken MacDonald, Set Design, Linda Cho, Costume Design, Robert Wierzer, Lighting Design, Jake Rodriguez, Choreography with original music by David Coulter.
If you never read the novel, it is a strong statement about the mistreatment of women in Afghanistan in the name of Islam and particularly by the Taliban. Before the rise of the Taliban (which was originally supported by the United States to fight the Russians) women had made great strides in Afghanistan, especially in the cities. They could go to school and have jobs. They could walk the streets freely. After the Taliban, they lost all their rights. They were not allowed in schools. They could not walk outside without a full hijab or without a male escort. If they did, they could be beaten or jailed. Spousal abuse had already been tolerated as well as multiple wives, but things got even worse under the Taliban rule. The story follows two women. One Mariam is born in the countryside and is married off to a much older man in Kabul. The other, Laila, is born to a caring family who is taken away by the Taliban. (I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot here.) Laila winds up as the second wife to Zamai, and the story then focuses on the relationship between the two women. Again, bring tissues, this is a very moving and predictably depressing tale. It is also uplifting as it looks and love, friendship, kindness and sacrifice that somehow continues to exist even in this oppressive culture.
I had a chance to interview Hend Ayoub who plays Mariam.
Bio: Hend Ayoub (Mariam) is excited to be making her Arena Stage debut. Her credits include Broadway’s “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo with Robin Williams, as well as its previous run at Los Angeles’ Mark Taper Forum; “Kiss” (Yale Repertory Theatre); “Veils” (world premiere, Portland Stage; Barrington Stage). Television credits include: “Homeland,” “Orange Is the New Black,” “The Looming Tower, “Madam Secretary,” “Royal Pains,” “Feed the Beast,” Comedy Central’s The Watch List and recurring roles on “Transparent” and “Damages.” For film, she co-starred in the Emmy Award-winning film “Death of a President” and the award-winning film “Private.”
- Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a Palestinian Israeli. Born and raised there, now living in NYC. I finished my Bachelor’s degree in Theatre-acting in Israel and have been training in NY with the Legendary Wynn Handman (who will be 98 years young soon!). There’s a great documentary about him on Netflix, “It Takes A Lunatic,” hope you check it out J
- Have you read the book, and if so, how is the play different from the book, “A Thousand Splendid Suns”?
I read both and found them both wonderful and moving! Ursula Rani Sarma did a fantastic job of turning the book into this wonderful play. I read the play first, then the book, and really enjoyed reading it in this order. Reading the book added a lot of historical information as well as the inner and background lives of the characters and made me discover new things about them. It enhanced the whole experience. So, if you haven’t read the book yet, come see the play first before we close on March 1st, and then you can take your time reading the book!
- Has playing Mariam raised your political awareness about the plight of women in that region, or were you aware of that before you took the role?
I was aware of it but not as much as I am now. I knew how bad the situation is, but I didn’t know that it was different once, that it was better. From doing research and from reading both the book and play you learn that “women taught at the university, they ran schools, held office in the government.”
“It’s Kabul. Women here used to practice law and medicine. They held office in government,” and it somehow makes it worse, to know that women there knew a different reality, had more rights and then lost everything. It’s sad. What’s even more sad is the role different countries played in making it worse.
- What do you want your audiences to understand about Mariam and women who are forced to live in her circumstances?
So many things:
That there’s a human being behind/under that burka. There’s a whole life, backstory, pain, disappointments, love, resilience. Mariam and Laila in the play and book, make you see the “other” in a different way. It makes you realize the “other” is the same as us. And when you really think about two of the main themes in the play – domestic abuse and women’s rights – you realize how universal these issues are. Even here in the U.S., three women are killed every day by a current or ex-partner, and while the Taliban is an extremely horrific example of women’s oppression, some people even here want to impose their religious views and take away some of women’s rights.
- When doing a character in a play like Mariam, it can be particularly emotionally, and physically draining. What techniques do you use to deal with the horrors you portray every performance once you leave the theatre?
I’m fortunate to enjoy acting for what it is and to not take the emotional drainage home with me after the stage lights are off. After each performance, I take home the joy of being on stage, the love and understanding I have for Mariam and the gratitude for being fortunate to have a different reality than her own. Also, and it might be important for the readers to know, that the play and the bookend on a positive and hopeful note, and that’s what I leave the theatre with each show.
For information on “A Thousand Splendid Suns” and for tickets go to the Arena Stage website.
Arena Stage is located at 1101 Sixth Street SW, Washington, D.C. 20024.