If you, like me, missed the play A Thousand Splendid Suns when it debuted last year at A.C.T., do not miss it again. Heartfelt, moving and stunningly beautiful, this show will blow you away. Whether or not you have read the book, the show will surprise you and make you fall in love for these women who persevere through unimaginable circumstances to protect each other and their children.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is the moving story of two women, brought together by circumstance, who learn to love each other and fight together to survive. Based on the internationally best-selling book by Bay-Area local, Kaled Hosseini, the play follows the lives of Mariam (Denmo Ibrahim) and Laila (Nadine Malouf). The show chronicles their lives through the many regime changes of Afghanistan as the country transitions into control by the Taliban. Together they endure loss, violence and childbirth in a country where they have no rights and nothing but each other.
If you have not read the book, I highly recommend it, but either way, don’t miss the play. The script is beautifully adapted for the stage by Ursula Rani Sarma. She takes the epic story of two women’s lives and rearranges some of the pieces to make a tight script that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
The two leading women are incredible. The bond between Mariam and Laila is central to the show. The entire play would not work if their love for each other were not believable. Thank goodness then that Nadine Malouf and Denmo Ibrahim bring such passion and intensity to these characters.
Malouf reprises the role of Laila that she originated last year, bringing the perfect proportions of desperation and strength to the character. Ibrahim is amazingly emotive in the role of Mariam, breaking audiences’ hearts with her dynamic and grounded performance. But what makes both these actresses stand out is their ability to portray these characters as young girls, fiery young women and more subdued older women at different points throughout the play. The actresses must often switch between life stages quickly through on-stage flashbacks. Still, the audience is never confused thanks to the sharpness of their transitions and clarity of the deeply emotive performances they give.
One of the most surprising elements of the show is the music. Composed by David Coulter specifically for the production, the music is performed live on a number of different instruments in one of the box seats just off stage. The music adds dimension to almost every moment of the show, creating the immersive sound more associated with movies than plays. This scoring technique really immerses the audience in the world of Kabul, Afghanistan in the 80s and 90s.
Then there is the set. Words cannot describe how beautiful this set is and how perfectly it complements the show. When the lights first came up onstage to reveal wire-mesh mountains with swirling designs above topped with a moving wire sun, I gasped aloud. Like the book, the play A Thousand Splendid Suns manages to portray the brutality of life for women in this time and place without forgetting the beauty and love also present. The set perfectly shows the harshness of the environment and its ethereal beauty, paralleling the situation in which these characters find themselves.
At its core, A Thousand Splendid Suns is about the resilience of the human spirit and the wonderful bonds between people that can endure despite the harshest of circumstances. As much as I adored reading the book, I think the play might be even better. The translation to the stage is flawless and leaves you even more attached to the characters than in the book. This is a show you simply don’t want to miss.
A.C.T.’s return engagement of A Thousand Splendid Suns runs July 17-29, 2018 at the Geary Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco. The show runs about two hours and forty-five minutes including one intermission. Tickets range $22-$110.