Remember Afghanistan? It was only four years ago that U.S.-led coalition forces rained bombs on Kabul, yet the current quagmire in Iraq has all but erased the previous war from our collective memory. Fortunately, a unique and vital collaboration between the Exile Theatre of Afghanistan and Bond Street Theatre compels us not to forget.
Conceived, written, and performed by members of both companies, Beyond the Mirror condenses three decades of invasions and hardship into a powerful 70-minute history lesson. Dance, puppetry, pantomime, and acrobatics combine in spare scenes of everyday life, punctuated by stylized outbursts of violence. Ancient myths alternate with documentary interviews. A rubab, a short-necked lute dating back to the eighth century B.C., provides the haunting score.
In 2002, Bond Street toured the refugee camps of northern Pakistan, performing for Afghan schoolchildren. In Peshawar, they met members of Exile, a two-year-old troupe of Afghan artists who had fled the Taliban, actors steeped in tradition as well as the Western techniques of Stanislavsky and Brecht. The two companies refined Beyond the Mirror for two years, adapting performances for local audiences in rural Afghanistan and Japan, and at the second annual Afghan Theater Festival in Kabul, where the current production premiered last August. The process has yielded lyrical imagery of almost aching beauty. The sight of the diminutive Anisa Wahab—first as the literal puppet of Soviet invaders, then as the grieving mother who loses her baby to a land mine—will not be soon forgotten.