Mar 22

‘Dust’ chronicles all sides of Afghan war

by Jenna Shummoogum · 0 comments

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When playwright Christopher Morris set out to write a play about the war in Afghanistan, he wanted to focus on the families of the soldiers on all sides of the conflict. He conducted interviews with various people in Pakistan, Afghanistan and on the Petawawa military base. It means that the narrative behind his stage premiere Dust, a collaboration with Jonathan Garfinkel, comprises a variety of different voices to tell the story of the effects of this war.

The play is a series of vignettes that depicts the stories from all points of view of the war. We see a mother who loses her son Sohail, to the Taliban army, a Pakistani doctor working to rehabilitate child suicide bombers, an actress who loses her husband in Afghanistan and escapes to Toronto to build a new life, as well as a wife in Canada whose husband dies in the war. All of these stories are rooted in the war and portray the impacts of it. But these threads are not woven together cohesively. Stories are jarred together and there isn’t one full narrative arch that ties them all together, other than the fact that they speak about the war.

Ensemble members (Deena Aziz, Zachary Dugan, Kyle Jesperson, Erin MacKinnon, Samiya Mumtaz and Esther Purves-Smith) play all of the character, from all sides of the conflict and it has some successes and some failures. Aziz is emotive as the doctor trying and failing to rehabilitate the young boys and also embodies her character as the actress who moves to Toronto. Purves-Smith does a great job playing the young son of that actress, her mannerisms conveying young masculinity and Jesperon’s portrayal of a young gay man in Islamabad adds a bit of levity to the heavy theme of the play.

There is a touching moment, where a widow wants to hug a stranger because he has the same build as her husband. But having woman portray the Taliban in one particular scene, where they are clad in fake beards is ill-conceived and feels like a caricature, while having Caucasian actors portray Pakistani family members makes the narrative feel disingenuous.  Mumtaz’s portrayal of a mother’s rage when her son is accused of raping and killing feels disconnected. And that is the major failing of Dust. The play doesn’t manage to truly connect with its audience because it doesn’t give the audience the chance to build a connection with the human voices in the stories and the cast struggles to bring poignancy to their many roles.

Dust does have an outstanding theatrical element and that’s Scott Reid’s set and lighting design. The floor of the set is covered in sand and this adds to the play as the audience watches the sand being used as an emotional outlet for the characters on stage. Light is used to stand as the son who joins the Taliban army and this works well within the play.

In the end, Dust does have some interesting messages and features important voices about the Afghan war, but it misses in its delivery.

Dust  is part of Alberta Theatre Projects Enbridge playRites Festival of New Canadian Plays. Tickets and more information is available online.

Photo Credit: Trudie Lee Photography.

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