Strong Women: Mariam and Laila in A Thousand Splendid Suns

By Elspeth Sweatman

During A.C.T.’s 50th-anniversary season, strong women are navigating their way through traditionally male-oriented spaces. In A Thousand Splendid Suns, running through February 26 at The Geary Theater, Mariam and Laila must fight to hold onto their hopes and dreams in a world where violence and religious fundamentalism conspire to dash them.

These two strong women are thrown together by the tragedy of war. Laila’s parents have been killed in a bombing, and Rasheed—Mariam’s husband—has pulled her from the rubble into their home. Although Mariam is initially suspicious of this newcomer, the two women rally together to take care of a child.

Laila (Nadine Malouf) and Mariam (Kate Rigg, seated)
in A.C.T.'s 2017 production of A Thousand Splendid Suns.
Photo by Kevin Berne. 
The women’s dreams of a better life are further threatened by the arrival of the Taliban. This Islamic fundamentalist group believed that the country’s problems were due to sinful behavior. They quickly issued edicts against these vices, which included women attending school, wearing nail polish, and leaving the house without a burka.

Yet, Mariam and Laila are strong. They defy these rules in their quest for a better life, for their children and for themselves.

“What I was most drawn to in A Thousand Splendid Suns was its depiction of three generations of Afghan women, and its unveiling of a friendship between two women who in other circumstances would never have even met, let alone become bonded for life,” says A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff. When she and playwright Ursula Rani Sarma first sat down to discuss this story, they immediately agreed that these two incredible female characters would be the spine of the play.

Writing a play with women at the center was particularly important to Sarma. “At a time when there is still a balance to be addressed in terms of gender representation across all sectors, to create a piece of theater with such powerful women at its helm feels incredibly satisfying and timely,” says Sarma.

A.C.T.’s production of A Thousand Splendid Suns runs through February 26. Click here to purchase tickets through our website. Want to learn more about Afghanistan, the process of adaptation, and women’s rights? Click here to purchase Words on Plays, A.C.T.’s in-depth performance guide series.

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