by Lynn on November 22, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Jonathan Garfinkel and Christopher Morris
Conceived by Human Cargo
Directed by Christopher Morris
Set and Costumes by Gillian Gallow
Lighting by Michelle Ramsay
Sound and Music by Richard Feren
Cast: Beau Dixon
Christine Horne
Andrew Lawrie
Cheri Maracle
Samiya Mumtaz
Parwin Mushtael
Sanjay Talwar

A gripping play that clearly illuminates the complexity of the war in Afghanistan and the utter futility in trying to solve its many thorny questions.

The Story. The program note distils the story down to the basics. “A child suicide bomber in Pakistan; a Canadian soldier in Kandahar; an Afghan immigrant in Toronto. Three worlds that collide in a play about love and loss in the time of war.” All the incidents in the play are based on actual events and they are connected. For example, a noted actress in Afghanistan tells the harrowing story of how her husband was killed and his body dumped outside their house. She finds him there. She is brought to Canada with her son by a kindly sponsor who has his own connections to Afghanistan. He puts them in a nice apartment that is two subway stops from the Afghan community. He doesn’t establish them in that community because it’s dangerous (drugs and gangs) and the lodgings are slum-like. So the woman has no one to talk to in her own language and she feels isolated.

While all the stories are based on true incidents, one is particularly special. Parwin Mushtael is playing the Afghani actress and it’s based on Mushtael’s own story. Her resolve, guts and courage in the light of her harrowing experience, leaves you shaken.

The Production. The audience is led to a holding space before they enter the playing space. Signs illuminate statistics: how many Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan; how many other military have died ; how many Afghan civilians have died (more than 20,000). Compared to the huge number of civilians, the number of dead soldiers is much less (any is too many, but still).

We are led into the playing area with two rows of chairs on the four sides of the space. Sand is in the centre of the space (really bits of brown rubber that when piled on the floor look like sand. A young man in Afghan garb wanders the space, his right arm is bent and held close to his body. The arm seems damaged. He peers hard at people. I look back just as hard. The rest of the audience does not take notice of him. I’m reminded of the young man who was in the theatre, watching us go in, during The 20th of November, the show about a young man in Germany who opened fire on his school. No one in the audience seemed to watch him when they filed in either.

What follows are short scenes involving a young teenaged boy whom a humanitarian organization wants to protect. The Taliban want to recruit him as a suicide bomber. Two Canadian soldiers ready to deploy to Afghanistan spend the last few days with their wives loving each other. The Afghan actress sits on a rug from Ikea recalling how she found her husband outside their house. The ghost of the man appears dramatically and lies on the mat.

Director Christopher Morris uses the space well and Michelle Ramsay lights it beautifully and carefully. Moments of poignant stillness juxtaposed with moments of tension again illuminate the upheaval of Afghanistan. There is a beautiful scene when a young widow is allowed to see her dead soldier husband that is very touching, but having the husband naked is a distraction that is unnecessary.

The cast is a mix of Canadians, Afghans and Pakistanis. Beau Dixon in several roles, especially that of a Canadian soldier with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, mines those troubled waters and portrays a man who is so emotionally fragile he leaves you limp in your seat. As Doctor Choudry, Samiya Mumtaz conveys a woman who knows the urgency of helping youth that no one wants. She is committed, direct and takes no prisoners when crossed. Just watching Parwin Mushtael play her own story, is uplifting and impressive. The rest of the cast of Christine Horne, Andrew Lawrie, Cheri Maracle and Sanjay Talwar acquit themselves well.

Comment. Writers Jonathan Garfinkel and Christopher Morris want to show the effects of the war in Afghanistan on women and children. They’ve done that in spades. They have also shown the incomprehensibility of the place. People from ‘outside’, Canada in this case, don’t get it. The need to help is genuine, but the realization that they aren’t wanted there doesn’t really register.

The reasons given by the two Canadian soldiers who are going to Afghanistan to fight are also vague, misguided and simplistic, but I am not surprised.

It’s obvious many soldiers there suffer from Post Dramatic Stress Disorder; family members are consumed by grief when one of their sons/husbands does not come home. Many civilians are damaged by the war and we don’t see any of them get help. Again, this is not the point of the play and its absence from the play does not in any way diminish it. The point is to see the human damage.

When Afghan refugees are sponsored to come to Canada, in this case, Toronto, the Canadian sponsor’s perspective of what is for the best is imposed on the assumption that it’s better to live in a clean apartment, than two subway stops away from the Afghan speaking community, even though the area is full of drug and gang crimes. If feeling isolated from your own people is not addressed, how can that be considered ‘for the best?’

Garfinkel and Morris deliberately do not offer solutions to the endless problems in Afghanistan because that is not their thesis. Showing the tangle of conflict, the ill-informed Canadian perspective on the Afghan culture; even showing the confusion of why Canada is there in the first place is only part of it. The effects of that war on women and children specifically, and everyone else generally is the focus and it comes out loud and painfully, movingly clear.

Crow’s Theatre presents a Human Cargo Production:

Opened: Nov. 14, 2015.
Closes: Nov. 29, 32015.
Cast: 7; 3 men, 4 women
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 parwin mushtael December 11, 2015 at 1:23 pm

Interview parwin mustael


2 parwin mushtael June 24, 2019 at 8:26 pm

afghan actores parwin mushtael