BWW Review: A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS at Arena Stage
A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS at Arena Stage is a breathtaking production that will stay with you long after curtain call. Adapted by Ursula Rani Sarma based on the beloved novel of the same name by Khaled Hosseini, A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS tells an unflinching story of the lives of two Afghan women bound together in war-ravaged Kabul. Despite the brutality of life in Kabul, both women exemplify the resilience and resourcefulness of women under even the harshest of circumstances.
Director Carey Perloff, the cast, and the creative team have done an impeccable job bringing Hosseini's hauntingly beautiful story to life. Set in Kabul, Afghanistan beginning in 1992 and spanning the consequences of Soviet withdrawal in 1989 through the rise of the Taliban in the early 2000s, A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS follows Laila (Mirian Katrib) and Mariam (Hend Ayoub) as they endure both the brutality of their marriage to the increasingly cruel Rasheed (Haysam Kadri) and grapple with the oppression of life outside the home. Though A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS does not shy away from the harsh realities of life in Kabul, moments of resilience and defiance are infused with such poetry that one is still left with an overwhelming hopefulness by show's end--thanks in no small part to Carey Perloff's incisive direction. She knows just which strings to pluck, and when.
The sweeping, time-bending plot is managed beautifully by the ensemble, led by Mirian Katrib as Laila and Hend Ayoub as Mariam. Their friendship and deep love for one another is hard won, and both women expertly navigate the hefty emotional and physical demands of the script while making us believe in the redemptive power of acknowledging on another's essential humanity. Katrib strikingly portrays Laila's journey from a fifteen year old girl whose world is turned upside after the death of her parents to resolute mother who does everything in her power to give her two children a childhood amidst the oppressive Taliban regime. Ayoub gives a standout performance as Rasheed's long-suffering first wife Mariam, and beautifully captures the raw emotion required by the role. There is not a weak link to be found in this striking ensemble. They move with an almost otherworldly precision as they rotate and clear set pieces, pull carpets stocked with wares across stage, and menacingly patrol the streets. This ensemble seems to be bound to the same heartbeat for the play's duration.
I can say wholeheartedly, and without exaggeration, that I have never seen a more perfect union of set design, lighting design, sound design, choreography, original music, and costume design. A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS is nothing if not an artistic triumph-- the purest celebration of time, place, culture, and emotion. The highest praise must be paid to Ken MacDonald (set design), Linda Cho (costume design), Robert Wierzel (lighting design), Jake Rodriguez (sound design), Stephen Buescher (choreography), and David Coulter (original music and performance).
Much like the two women at its center, the message of A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS endures. Though at times the violence and depth of emotion threatens to overwhelm, the love between two women bound to each other across time and space leaves ample room for hope. This stunning production will surely leave its mark on you.
A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS runs from January 17-March 1, 2020 at Arena Stage. For tickets, visit Arena Stage's website. Connect with artists and staff at a post-show conversation on January 29, February 4, and February 12th following the 12pm performances, January 28th following the 7:30pm performance, and February 27 following the 8:00pm performance.
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission