Corrections or additions?
This review by Jack Florek was prepared for the October 22, 2003
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Drama Review: `Afghan Women’
New plays, especially those with a serious esthetic
and social intent, are notoriously difficult to produce. Artistic
quality can rise and fall from one scene, and even one line, to the
next. Trenton native William Mastrosimone’s new play, "The Afghan
Women," now on stage at Passage Theater in Trenton, offers its
share of high moments as well as some dips in the valley below.
Based partly on his own experiences traveling through Afghanistan
in the 1980s, Mastrosimone has written a hybrid of a play that shifts
between being a realistic political drama — highlighted with
comic zingers — that occasionally morphs into an expressionistic
theater piece filled with light, shadow, and dance-like moments out
of time. It will be onstage at Passage Theater through November 2.
Malalai (Cindy Katz) is an Afghan-American female physician who has
returned to her homeland to operate an orphanage under extreme
With her hands brittle from digging the graves of so many starving
children, Malalai encounters three women (Regina Hilliard Bain, Soraya
Broukhim, and Sophia Skiles) scouring the dirt for the bones of dead
children to be used to make buttons and chicken feed. After
them with her machine gun, which later proves to be inoperable,
takes pity on them and feeds the three women rice and gives them
Hamood (Christopher McCann), a powerful and ruthless warlord with
designs on overthrowing the government, takes a fancy to the
yet cantankerous, doctor. On the run from potential assassins and
the Afghan army, Hamood hopes to make a getaway to the Pakistan border
using children from the orphanage as a human shield. He is aided by
his only surviving son, Omar (Randy Reyes). Unable to persuade Hamood
to change his mind, Malalai and the three women plot to brutally kill
The less realistic elements of "The Afghan Women" are
enticing and give the production its strongest moments. The language
uttered by every character often flows with beauty and elegance
souls lack bodies and we are bodies that lack souls" and "An
Afghan returns a pinch with a punch"). According to the production
notes, the play takes its inspiration from Euripedes’ "The Trojan
Women" and much of the play’s nonrealistic feel stems from
nod to this ancient Greek play.
But it is when these expressionistic moments become
enmeshed with strict realism that the play falters and creates
The long scene in which Hamood and Malalai meet and proceed to
dual using lines from their favorite Afghan poets as foils stretches
credibility. The three Afghan women, who often serve as a kind of
Greek chorus with no real individual identity of their own, suddenly
spout details of personal past calamities as their reasons for
to help murder Hamood. This seems, at the least, forced.
Malalai, enraged at the three women for scavenging for the bones of
dead orphans abruptly shifts her mood and decides to explain her
history to them as she sits right where they were just digging.
The orphans, ostensibly hidden in the back, play a central role in
both the motivations of the characters and in the play itself —
is stipulating that all productions must raise money for International
Orphan Care, an organization dedicated to maintaining Afghan
But although these children are repeatedly referred to, the audience
is given no real evidence (sound or sight) that they actually exist.
This lessens any sense of empathy the audience may generate for them
and their plight.
But despite these clumsy moments, "The Afghan Women" is a
play worth seeing. It is an intelligently serious play that takes
on a world in which few Americans have much understanding. Because
this is its first production, there is no doubt that most of these
problems will be taken care of in further revisions.
This production boasts some fine performances, particularly by
McCann, Regina Hilliard Bain, Soraya Broukhim, and Sophia Skiles.
Randy Reyes, in a small role as Hamood’s excitable boy, does a
job. Jonathan Bernstein’s direction keeps things moving at a
pace, and Brent Langdon’s fight direction is appropriately jarring.
In addition, the design elements are all top notch. Robert W.
dramatically moody lighting perfectly complement Gail Cooper-Hecht’s
subtle costume designs (composed of muted, yet striking, colors) and
Eliza Brown’s functional dusty set work well together. Marc Gwinn’s
sound design adds much to the atmosphere of the play’s world.
To say that "The Afghan Women" is a work-in-progress in no
way diminishes its power to stir and educate its audience. Part of
the fun of seeing live theater is not just to experience the power
of performance and of a richly refined work, but the added drama of
theater professionals struggling, sometimes brilliantly, to give birth
to a new creation.
— Jack Florek
Front and Montgomery streets, Trenton, 609-392-0766. William
new play about an Afghan-American doctor who returns to her homeland
to volunteer at an orphanage. Part of ticket sales goes to
Orphan Care. Performances continue to Sunday, November 2. $25.
Showtimes are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays
at 5 p.m. Www.passagetheatre.org.
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