An Extraordinary Journey: An Interview with Playwright Ursula Rani Sarma

By Simon Hodgson

“Adapting to the theater from another medium is really a collaboration from the moment you begin writing,” says Ursula Rani Sarma, the Irish Indian playwright adapting A Thousand Splendid Suns for the stage. “I imagine it as a process of discussion with the original material, a conversation that allows me to seek out the vital dramatic elements and reimagine them on the stage.” Just before rehearsals for A.C.T.’s production started, we caught up with Sarma to talk about adaptations and Afghanistan.

A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff, novelist Khaled Hosseini,
and playwright Ursula Rani Sarma.
Why were you interested in adapting A Thousand Splendid Suns for the Geary stage?
Not only had I huge respect and admiration for the novel itself, but I also responded both intellectually and emotionally to the strength and determination of its central female characters. I found the setting and landscape incredibly evocative, and I fully appreciated how Khaled [Hosseini] had managed to make sense of the complexity of the political situation in Afghanistan at a particular moment through the emotional journeys of the central characters. In doing this, he made their story feel both familiar and recognizable. I jumped at the chance to adapt such strong material for the stage and have enjoyed every step of the process.

Which parts of this process were the most special?
I enjoyed the quiet moments when I was working on the adaptation alone in front of my computer. I felt incredibly close to Mariam, and working on the script every day and finding a way to bring her to life made for some very special moments. As a writer, these solitary and still moments with the characters are the most precious to me.

How have the workshops at A.C.T. helped your process?
It is only when the words take flight in the rehearsal room that the real magic of theater comes into play. Working alongside Carey and the rest of the creative team has been rewarding and inspiring. When you can hear a script brought to life by actors, and when you can converse with them about the characters they are playing, it brings an entirely new dimension to the play.

Why is A Thousand Splendid Suns particularly suited for the stage?
The theater is one of the best mediums with which to explore complex human relationships like the ones at the center of A Thousand Splendid Suns. As in the novel, the relationship between Mariam and Laila—trapped in a violent home, reaching out to each other—forms the spine of the play. The difference is that on the stage, the characters will take on a physical existence while an audience bears witness to their extraordinary journey.

A Thousand Splendid Suns begins February 1 at The Geary Theater. Click here to purchase tickets through our website. Want to know more about the creation of A Thousand Splendid Suns? Click here to purchase Words on Plays, A.C.T.'s in-depth performance guide series.

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