Mourning Sun Review: A Universal Message

A sad but hope-filled story of a young Ethiopian woman, “Mourning Sun” appears on the stage of Theatre 167 to bring attention to the issue of child marriage and rape. Gloomy in its premise, this tale of separated lovers and individual struggle is brightened up by humor, reminding us that hope, like the sun, is always there, even if hidden behind the clouds.

Learning about a different culture and hearing the characters’ native tongue, the audience receives a powerful message: with help and support of others, people can get over abuse and misery. Thus, the story reminds us that we need to always be there for those we love, especially if they are going through hard times.

Written by Antu Yacob and directed by Ari Laura Kreith, the play criticizes the way young women are treated in Ethiopian culture. They are married off before getting their first period and suffer miscarriages, due to the unpreparedness of their body for pregnancy and the three-day wait for the hospital during labor. When the protagonist, Biftu (Arlene Chico-Lugo) wails in agony, her mother, Emaye (Antu Yacob), tells her that women must endure everything “with dignity.” Going to the hospital in time might have saved her baby and left Biftu in good health, but, unfortunately, cultural norms are valued more than a woman’s life and happiness.

As we learn from Biftu’s experience, physical abuse is easier to escape than mental shackles. Even when she leaves her country and finds herself in a more liberal environment, she continues thinking like an Ethiopian. As she tells her American friend, True (John Keller), in her culture women are not encouraged to show any emotions, especially happiness. Therefore, not only does she have to overcome her undesired wedding, marital rape and miscarriage, she also needs to rediscover her own value as a woman and a human being, to feel beautiful and loved once again.

Unfortunately for her, her new husband, Abdi (Kevis Hillocks), who has loved her since they were teenagers and shares her passion for music (especially Michael Jackson), is dealing with his own issues and cannot give Biftu the support and guidance she needs. An AIDS orphan, Abdi was treated as an outcast back in Ethiopia. Hence, he harbors negative feelings about his native village. As he tells his American Uncle Ken, he hates their custom of “judging people for shit we can’t control.” To his dismay, in Ethiopia people’s opinion matters more than an individual’s inherent value.

Portraying more than one secondary character, many actors could showcase their talent even more if the characters they play were totally different. However, both Emaye and Abdi’s Aunt Miriam, played by Antu Yacob, are strong women, who speak their mind with confidence and authority; both Dr. Wells and True, played by John Keller, act as mentors to Biftu, and both Mawardi, Biftu’s sister, and Kayleen, Abdi’s college friend, played by Fadoua Hanine, rebel against anything they disagree with. The biggest transformation we witness happens in dress and pronunciation, since African and American characters speak and dress respectively.

With this said, we can’t help but notice how organically the actors switch between the languages. Even though we do not understand the language the characters speak, it does not take us out of the story, due to some translation and the powerful expression of emotions. After all, love and hatred are universal and need no interpreter. Even though the play ends with Abdi and Biftu talking in their native tongue, we leave the theater sure that we do not need to understand It to know what exactly they said to each other.

Thus, although the play operates in a specific cultural context, it contains universal situations we all have experienced. Marriage against one’s will, negotiating one’s identity as an immigrant in a foreign country, women-men dichotomy, and love – all of these themes have interested writers and theater-goers for centuries. This makes “Mourning Sun” unique yet universal and appealing to a wide range of audiences.

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