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Arena Stage’s A Thousand Splendid Suns Shines Scorchingly Hot on these Daring Afghan Women



Based on the novel by Khaled Hosseini, the author of 2003’s “The Kite Runner“, Arena Stage marches forward his harrowing and informative A Thousand Splendid Suns to illuminate the horrific conditions women are subjected to in Afghanistan. Under the closing days of the Soviet occupation in the 1990’s and the reign of terror the Taliban cloaked the country in soon after, playwright Ursula Rani Sarma (Débris, The Ripple Effect) finds the details to adapt the novel in a somewhat too literally-minded translation to the stage. The piece does manage to instill and unwind the stark and difficult situations women find themselves ensnared in under the rule of law and walk out the dangers that exist outside, and inside the door of their home. They stand isolated and fearful, but decidedly determined to survive, for themselves and each other, but more so for their children and their complicated future. The bonds of maternal love and defiance will always exist, regardless of the violence and mayhem that surround, and in this sweeping story, directed with swift attention to the details of pain and love by Carey Perloff (Stratford’s Private Lives, Williamstown’s Ghosts), A Thousand Splendid Suns shines as hot and fierce as the metaphoric metal sun that glides over the Arena Stage. Just like that symbol of life, it illuminates with a hard bright twisted force the chaos these women and children must withstand and survive.

Haysam Kadri and Mirian Katrib. Photo by Margot Schulman.

The mystical heaviness of tradition and religion are pulled slowly across the stage, courtesy of the fine elegant design of Ken MacDonald (Arena’s Newsies). It floats like the soon-to-be-outlawed kite across the structural dissected sky, brought to beautiful life by lighting designer Robert Wierzel (Broadway’s Lady Day…) alongside the detailed costuming of Linda Cho (Broadway’s Lifespan of a Fact), the strong sound design of Jake Rodriguez (OSF’s Between Two Knees), and the haunting original music written and performed by David Coulter (A.C.T.’s Hamlet). There is always time for poetry, it is said, before devastation blows apart Laila’s world. Hurt but still alive, Laila, determinedly portrayed by the earnest Mirian Katrib (Theatre Passe Muraille’s The Prisoner of Tehran), finds her status and life rearranged before her very eyes. She is forced by her second-class citizen status and her troubling predicament into becoming a child bride and a second wife to the manipulative neighbor, Rasheed, played by Haysam Kadri (Theatre Calgary’s Enron). The splendid tangled sun watches over the young trapped woman as she attempts to forge a new chapter, isolated in the man’s home with his first wife, Mariam, portrayed most engagingly by the wonderfully earthbound Hend Ayoub (Yale Rep’s Kiss). At first there is jealous competitiveness, but once another female presents itself into the home, in the form of Laila’s baby girl, Aziza, eventually played by Nikita Tewani (Soho Playhouse’s The Fall), the female bond of maternal love and survival is etched into their detail of the scarf and the burka, challenging the blood and death that threatens them from all around.

Mirian Katrib and Hend Ayoub. Photo by Margot Schulman.

It becomes a waiting game, this play, as the restrictions against these women start to pile up on top of their already weighted shoulders. We know a crack in their landscape has to appear, but we hold on with them, somewhat too long, waiting as the threat rises and the dangerousness exposes itself. Director Perloff, assisted by choreographer Stephen Buescher (Tryptych’s Stockholm) try hard to create an atmosphere of dread and fear.  The symbolic images of two wives and a daughter holding hands covered from head to toe in the oppressive burka walking with the raging hot sun of Afghanistan bearing down on them flies with force into our hearts and minds. I wanted more of the symbolic and metaphoric within this production and its stylistic approach to terror, like the more skilled Broadway production of Indecent, and less of an allegiance to the text of the intricate novel. The first act feeds us the horrific dangers of bombs and guns, but fails to detail with gruesome honesty the horror and danger that lives inside of Rasheed’s house. He’s obviously not a good non-violent man, but his portrayal is almost too humane. The violence comes later in Act Two, and even that doesn’t sting as much as it could. “Where there are men, anything is possible“, and although the oppression rings solidly true, except for the kind and loving young Tariq, affectionately portrayed by Antoine Yared (Soulpepper’s A Christmas Carol) who seemingly disappears into the mountains packing with him all the hope and trust of the young innocent Laila, it doesn’t sink in beyond the intellectual and factual. We see the utter fear of a mother’s ferocious determination to keep her child from harm’s way, but the monumental and hindering threat of violence from outside and within doesn’t rise up as hot and hard as the wirily Afghan sun. The cast and crew do a fine job layering and entwining the historic story-telling trauma with the present horror story inside my mind’s eye, but the mystical and the spiritual squeeze never fully causes havoc in my heart.

Lanna Joffrey and Hend Ayoub. Photo by Margot Schulman.

Mariam’s story is the one most fully formulated and played out with an emotionality that lingers, particularly as her damaged and discarded mother, diligently portrayed by Lanna Joffrey (Cervantes Theatre’s Eyes of the Night) watches on. Her mother has witnessed first hand the way men can banish and tarnish a woman after he is done getting what he wants, specifically Mariam’s father, the well-off handsome Wakil, dutifully played by Jason Kapoor (off-Broadway’s Ideation). So she can only warn her wide-eyed daughter of the oncoming betrayal, never offering support or encouragement against the onslaught of pain that must be endured, only a framework of dishearteningly determination to withstand the violence that will most likely come her way.  It’s a tremendously powerful landscape that this team has carved out; detailed and literal, informing and illuminating, but somehow it misses the squeeze of the heart and the terror of the blazing sun. It ends with a blazing flash of white light backed by a firing of a bullet that releases them from further pain and harm. It’s inspiring and authentic, just not as emotionally connecting as I had hoped for when looking into the Afghan horizon.

Hend Ayoub and Mirian Katrib in A Thousand Splendid Suns running January 17 through March 1, 2020 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Margot Schulman.

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My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to


Florence Welch, Martyna Majok, Rachel Chavkin and More On New Musical Gatsby Coming To A.R.T



Florence Welch Photo by De Wilde

Producers Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, Jordan Roth, and American Repertory Theater(A.R.T.) at Harvard University announced today that Gatsby, a brand-new musical stage adaptation of the legendary F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, will make its highly anticipated World Premiere at A.R.T. in 2024, and will be directed by Tony Award® winner Rachel Chavkin and choreographed by Tony Award winner Sonya Tayeh.

Rachel Chavkin Photo Credit Erik Tanner

Gatsby will feature music by Florence Welch, the Grammy Award-nominated international rock star of Florence + the Machine and Thomas Bartlett, the Oscar and Grammy Award nominee, with lyrics by Ms. Welch, and a book by Pulitzer Prize® winner Martyna Majok.

Martyna Majok by Josiah Bania

Gatsby will be produced at American Repertory Theater by special arrangement with Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, and Jordan Roth, in association with Robert Fox. Hannah Giannoulis serves as co-producer.

Sonya Tayeh

American Repertory Theater (Diane Paulus, Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director; Kelvin Dinkins, Jr., Executive Director) at Harvard University produces groundbreaking work to catalyze dialogue and transformation. Tony Award-winning and nominated productions include Jagged Little PillWaitressNatasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812; All the Way; The Glass Menagerie; Pippin; Once; and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Its revival of 1776, a co-production with Roundabout Theatre Company, is currently touring nationally. Learn more at

Thomas Bartlett Photo Credit York Tillyer

Additional Gatsby news will be announced soon.

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Reading For Hunter Bell, Jeff Bowen and Ann McNamee New Musical Other World



Other World, a new musical with an original score and story by Tony Award Nominee Hunter Bell (book), Obie Award winner Jeff Bowen (music and lyrics), and singer-songwriter and author Ann McNamee(music and lyrics) will present invite-only staged readings on Thursday, March 16 and Friday, March 17 at Open Jar Studios in New York City. With direction by Jenn Rapp (The Illusionists Director/Choreographer) and choreography by Karla Puno Garcia (Tick, Tick … BOOM! film, Kennedy Center Honors), Other World is being developed in creative consultation with the five-time Academy Award winning WĒTĀ Workshop (The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies).

Hunter Bell, Jeff Bowen and Ann McNamee

One moment Sri and Lorraine are in a garage on Earth. The next, they’re unexpectedly transported into Sri’s favorite video game, Other World. Now trapped in the game and in a race against the clock, this unlikely pair must work together, discover their inner strengths, and connect with gifted gamers and astonishing avatars in order to survive and find a way home. With art direction provided by Academy Award–winning Wētā Workshop (The Lord of the RingsAvatar), this heartfelt, humorous musical explores the connections we make on- and off-line, while celebrating the families and friendships we need to thrive in any world. Join us for this spectacular, original, otherwordly adventure. Your journey begins…now!

The cast features Micah Beauvais (Sri), Bella Coppola (Lorraine), Ryan Andes (Roman/Antagon), Madeleine Doherty (Myra), Kaden Kearney (Tris), Brandi Porter (Temula), Mikaela Secada (Jamie), with Sojouner Brown, Elena Camp, Sommer Carbuccia, Laura Dadap, Seth Rettberg, Sherisse Springer, Blake Stadnik, Levin Valayil, and Jason Williams.

The creative team for the developmental presentation also features music direction by Amanda Morton (KPOP), casting by Paul Hardt Casting (Once Upon A One More Time), video design by Khristian Bork (Coco live at the Hollywood Bowl, Danny Elfman – Coachella), sound design by Hidenori Nakajo (Octet), and general management by Alchemy Production Group (The Music Man, Come From Away).  The Executive Producer is Lauren Tucker/Alchemy Production Group.

For more information about the show, visit

Hunter Bell (Book) earned an OBIE Award, a Drama League nomination, a GLAAD Media nomination, and a Tony nomination for Best Book of a Musical, all for the original Broadway musical [title of show]. Other credits include the books for Silence! The Musical (Lucille Lortel Nomination, Outstanding Musical), Now. Here. This. (Vineyard Theatre), Bellobration! (Ringling Bros. Circus), Villains Tonight! (Disney Cruise Lines), Found (Atlantic Theater, Drama Desk Nomination, Outstanding Book of a Musical), and Julie Andrews’ The Great American Mousical (Goodspeed). He is a co-creator of the web series “the [title of show] show” and has developed television with ABC Studios/ABC Television. Hunter is a proud graduate and distinguished alumnus of Webster University’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts, a member of the Dramatists Guild, Writers Guild, a MacDowell Fellow, and currently serves on the board of the Educational Theatre Association and Educational Theatre Foundation, national arts advocacy organizations representing theatre teachers and students.

Jeff Bowen (Music and Lyrics) wrote the music and lyrics for and starred in the Broadway musical [title of show] (OBIE Award) and Now. Here. This. Additionally, he has written music and lyrics for Now. Here. This. (Vineyard Theatre), Villains Tonight! (Walt Disney Company), and the theme songs for the web series “the [title of show] show” and “Squad ’85.” His songs can be heard on the original cast albums of [title of show], Now. Here. This., as well as Broadway Bares Openingsand Over the Moon: The Broadway Lullaby Project. He is a proud member of ASCAP, AEA, Writers Guild, Dramatists Guild, and the National Audubon Society. He serves as a faculty member of the National Theatre Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center.

Ann McNamee(Music and Lyrics) received a B.A. from Wellesley College and a Ph.D. in Music Theory from Yale University, leading to a twenty-year career in teaching, choral conducting, and music research at Swarthmore College. After retiring as Professor Emerita, Ann composed for, sang, played keys, and toured with the Flying Other Brothers and Moonalice, both bands led by her husband Roger McNamee. She composed the majority of the songs on the Moonalice album that was part of T Bone Burnett’s nomination for Producer of the Year at the 2009 Grammy Awards. For the Lilith Fair tour in 2010, she fronted the band Ann Atomic. Another highlight was opening up for U2 at the Oakland Coliseum in November 2011. She retired from touring in 2012 in order to collaborate on musical theater projects full-time. Ann’s outside interests include co-founding the Haight Street Art Center, a community center/poster music/print shop to celebrate rock poster art in the Bay Area.

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Out of Town

The Avett Brothers Musical Swept Away Sails Into Arena Stage This Fall



Swept Away, the new musical written by Tony Award winner John Logan (book) and “America’s biggest roots band” (Rolling Stone), The Avett Brothers (music and lyrics), was announced today as part of the  2023/24 season at Arena Stage, Washington, DC (Molly Smith, Artistic Director; Edgar Dobie, Executive Producer).  Performances will begin November 25 and will continue through December 30. Tony Award winner Michael Mayer will direct the production as he had last year in the musical’s sold-out world premiere at Berkeley Rep. The Arena Stage engagement will feature an updated score with additional, never-before-heard songs. Swept Away is produced by Special Arrangement with Matthew Masten, Sean Hudock, and Madison Wells Live.

Swept Away
 is set in 1888, off the coast of New Bedford, MA. When a violent storm sinks their whaling ship, the four surviving souls — a young man in search of adventure, his older brother who has sworn to protect him, a captain at the end of a long career at sea, and a worldly first mate who has fallen from grace — each face a reckoning: How far will I go to stay alive? And can I live with the consequences?

Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, under the leadership of Artistic Director Molly Smith and Executive Producer Edgar Dobie, is a national center dedicated to American voices and artists. Arena Stage produces plays of all that is passionate, profound, deep and dangerous in the American spirit, and presents diverse and ground-breaking work from some of the best artists around the country. Arena Stage is committed to commissioning and developing new plays and impacting the lives of over 10,000 students annually through its work in community engagement. Now in its eighth decade, Arena Stage serves a diverse annual audience of more than 300,000.

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