A desperate drama
Playwright William Mastrosimone is no stranger to violence.
His one-act drama, 'Bang Bang You're Dead' was written to help high school students deal with random violence in the wake of the Kip Kinkel shootings at Thurston High School in Springfield in May 1998.
Sadly amplified by the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado a year later, it has become the most produced drama in American high school theater.
Mastrosimone came to national attention with the play 'Extremities,' which he adapted for the movie, and a number of television scripts including 'Sinatra' and most recently 'A Question of Honor,' the Benedict Arnold biography for the A&E channel.
He returns to the subject of violence with 'The Afghan Women,' a new play that will get a reading soon in Northwest Portland.
The reading stars Vana O'Brien, Sally Eames-Harlan, Susan Jonsson, Christine Calfas and Sam Mowry. Proceeds will go to the California-based International Orphan Care, a humanitarian organization that plans to establish a large orphanage in Afghanistan.
Loosely based on Euripides' Greek tragedy 'The Trojan Women,' which was written in 415 B.C. when the Greeks were attacking Sicily, the story concerns women in the wake of war. In the Greek play, they were resigned to their fate; in Afghanistan they are not, says Mastrosimone in a phone call from his New Jersey home:
'The Trojan women were passive in acceptance of their fate (to be sold as slaves). They thought, what else could they do? In Afghanistan you see men broken and defeated in refugee camps, but the women are used to being oppressed, and they're hauling water and finding firewood.'
Mastrosimone's three main characters are homeless, and they survive by raiding battlefields and graveyards and digging up bones to make into buttons or to grind up for chicken feed. They pile them onto a little cart that they pull from one town to another.
The setting stems from Mastrosimone's 1980 experiences in Afghanistan during the Russian occupation. Fascinated by the idea of resistance fighters battling tanks with primitive weapons, Mastrosimone managed to get himself smuggled into the country disguised as an Afghan under the noses of Soviet troops. While there, he almost died of amoebic dysentery and witnessed horrific scenes of violence.
Mastrosimone traveled under the protection of Taliban warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar Ñ aka the Vampire Ñ valued by the CIA for his ruthlessness. Hekmatyar's men had standing orders to throw acid in the faces of women not wearing a veil. Hekmatyar is presently on the run after trying to kill Afghan leader Hamid Karzei with a car bomb.
'The image of those women pulling that cart never left me,' Mastrosimone says. 'When I saw it in 1980, I knew I was going to write about it someday. After 9-11 I fell into a terrible depression. I never dealt with all that stuff. You think you're strong, you think you can handle it, but it makes you see human beings in a different way.'