November 19, 2007

‘Afghan Women’ is a story of struggle

Nora Aboali stars in William Mastrosimone's The Afghan Women, at Sacramento State's Playwright's Theatre. Nora Aboali stars in William Mastrosimone's The Afghan Women, at Sacramento State's Playwright's Theatre.

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An Afghanistan orphanage becomes the scene of a war of wills between the facility’s director and an Afghan warlord in William Mastrosimone’s The Afghan Women, being presented at Sacramento State’s Playwright’s Theatre Dec. 6-9 and 12-16.

Born in Afghanistan to an Afghan father and American mother, the main character, Malalai, was raised in America but returns to her native country following the end of Soviet occupation, says director Karen Nylund.

“It’s about four Afghan women who take on a warlord who is trying to keep Afghanistan in a constant state of war,” Nylund says.

When Malalai returns to see her family’s estate, she is moved by the site of a child killed by a land mine and decides to stay in Afghanistan. “Rather than putting guns in the children’s hands, she wants to teach them mathematics, teach them to learn, give them other options,” says Nora Aboali, who plays Malalai.

That effort is further complicated when the warlord and his fighters take over the orphanage, making prisoners of the children and the four women living there.

Aboali pulled on her own upbringing to get into character. Her father is Egyptian and her mother is American. “I identify well with Malalai,” Aboali says. “I’ve looked at my culture and how I’ve grown up.”

Nylund is a graduate student who is staging the play as part of her thesis project, a study of how the Middle East and Islam are portrayed in western theater.

Her interest in that field began after reading Orientalism, by late Columbia University professor Edward Said. The book looks at the ways western writers have portrayed the Far and Middle East in literature and historical documents, Nylund says, adding that stereotypes begun centuries ago persist today.

“My thesis seeks out works which attempt to give a more three-dimensional view of the Middle East and Islam,” Nylund says.

Those who attend the play also will help in a much larger effort. Mastrosimone has provided rights to the play free of charge in exchange for the proceeds being donated to International Orphan Care, Nylund says.

Performances are at 8 p.m. Dec. 6-8 and 14-15; at 2 p.m. Dec. 9 and 16; and at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 12-13. Cost is $8 general admission and $5 for children 11 years old and young for the Dec. 12-13 performances. All other performances are $12 general admission, $10 for students, seniors and Sacramento State employees, and $8 for children. Tickets are available at the Sacramento State Ticket office, (916) 278-4323 or

Go to for a high-resolution photo. For more information, contact the Theatre and Dance Department at (916) 278-6368. For media assistance, call Sacramento State’s Public Affairs office, (916) 278-6156.