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Graceful Rebellions offers unique view of Afghanistan

By Alejandro Bustos on May 7, 2015

When you hear the name “Afghanistan” what image comes to you mind?  The Taliban?  Opium warlords?  The Canadian military base in Kandahar?

For many people, all they know about this landlocked country is what they read in newspapers, hear from politicians or see on TV reports.  But what about regular Afghan people, what is their world like?

In her one-woman show Graceful Rebellions,  which is playing at the Arts Court theatre today and Friday, playwright and actress Shaista Latif offers a rare window into the daily Afghan reality by telling the story of three different women.

There is the 14-year-old teenage girl who dreams of being a bride,  and who describes in intricate detail what her wedding day will be like.  Her naivety, innocence and joy at being alive offers a jarring contrast to the ubiquitous images of incessant fighting that many of us see as synonymous with Afghanistan.

In sharp contrast, we later hear from a woman in her 30s who has pretended to be a man for years, while fighting alongside militia soldiers loyal to an opium warlord.  Her cynicism and harsh pragmatism offers, at times, a frightening reality.

This is then contrasted with a 16-year-old teenage girl living in Canada, who is pleading not to be expelled from school for getting into a fight.  Many people who have lived an immigrant experience will be able to relate to many aspects of this monologue.

With impressive skill, Latif is able to switch back-and-forth between characters.  One moment she is a starry-eyed and impressionable girl of 14, the next a stone faced woman who is recounting how she has killed in battle.  These different roles, meanwhile, are presented while discussing such themes as homosexuality and gender equality.

Each monologue is set in different times and different places.  At times, the audience will be in Afghanistan around the time of the Soviet invasion, while at other moments the setting will be in present-day Canada.

This ability to switch between time and geographical locations is strengthened by Latif’s clever interaction with the audience.  (I won’t give away the brilliant way that the show opens).  By incorporating the audience members as part of the setting, she is able to draw them into the story.

With a running time of approximately 50 minutes, this relatively short performance offers an interesting and enjoyable outing for those who love theatre, as well as anyone who wants a different take on what it’s like to be Afghan.

Graceful Rebellions is playing at Arts Court (2 Daly Ave.) until May 8 as part of Ontario SceneTickets are $25.