War re-experienced

Christopher Morris’ Dust tells the story of three families affected by the war in Afghanistan

Smita Misra looks to the audience in the opening scene of Dust. She plays Bibi, a widowed Pakistani woman and mother of a Taliban soldier during the play’s dress rehersal on Wednesday night.
Smita Misra looks to the audience in the opening scene of Dust. She plays Bibi, a widowed Pakistani woman and mother of a Taliban soldier during the play’s dress rehersal on Wednesday night.
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Three years ago, Christopher Morris, ConEd ’97, conducted a series of interviews in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Ontario to discover the realities of those affected by the war in Afghanistan.

Dust became the outlet for these stories. Over a five-week period, a cast of 13 Queen’s students rehearsed the play — a harrowing and emotionally charged depiction of families affected by the war.

Through its three-part segmentation, it successfully avoids placing blame and instead alludes to a common suffering and sense of loss.

“It’s important to me to discuss the idea of what an enemy is,” Morris said following the Wednesday night dress rehearsal. “I strongly believe that the wife or mother of a Taliban [soldier] feels the exact same feelings that a wife and mother of a Canadian feels.”

Dust begins on a sloped stage covered in sand. In the centre, a Pakistani woman removes her burka and dances, letting the sand fall between her fingers as she transitions through a range of emotions. Bibi is a mother and wife of a Taliban soldier, but is soon widowed and left to deal with her son joining the Taliban.

While Smita Misra’s portrayal of Biba is raw and focused, actors playing neighbors and friends of Bibi narrate the isolation she feels.

With the beginning of the next segment, the carefully lit stage shows Wajma, a widow from Kabul and her son Qais moving into the Toronto community.

Wajma becomes an actress, with the stage turning into a film set. She becomes extraverted, thumbing her nose at the Taliban. These acting sequences provide the necessary insight into the mental unravellings of a mother widowed by war, an experience Rebbecca Lloyd depicts with maturity. Dust concludes with a Canadian segment that looks into the relationship between Dolores and her husband Carson, who’s killed in Afghan combat.

Dolores is ultimately widowed after Carson is killed overseas. The audience is privy to his final minutes as he crawls across the sand, unable to move his legs. Dolores, grippingly portrayed by Lauren Saunders, is left alone opening a Christmas present from her late husband. The play comes full circle, ending with some of the main actors from the three segments standing in solidarity. The audience is left jarred, but satisfied with the desolation the characters have dealt with. “For me, in the end it’s a piece of theatre,” Morris said. “I have respect for all the stories, but we have to make a piece of theatre.”

Morris plans to make Dust into a professional production and have it tour across Canada and Pakistan in 2013.

For now, the Queen’s-based production offers a timely and balanced account of war, which succeeds on the strength of its script and the sensitivity of its actors.

Dust runs at the Rotunda Theatre until Nov. 19. Tickets are $10 for students.

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