“If I were dying, I would remember,” insists Meena at the climax of “No Such Cold Thing,” an intricate play that examines the uncertain nature of memory and reality. Alexa Pagano ’16 portrayed Meena in this past weekend’s production of “No Such Cold Thing,” which follows two teenage Afghan sisters, Meena and Alya, and an American soldier, Sergio.
A one-act play written by American playwright Naomi Wallace in 2009, “No Such Cold Thing” was performed on Friday and Saturday nights in the Theatre Classroom. Wei Han Lim ’15 directed the show, which featured sound by Aneesh Ashutosh ’15, lighting by Jason Young ’15 and starred Alexandria Ma ’17, Joe Okafor ’17 and Pagano, who are all enrolled in THDA-901: Advanced Practical Theatre.
The play begins with Meena returning to Afghanistan for the first time since leaving years ago with her father to study in England. The first few moments of the show focus on the conflict between the rebellious Meena and the traditional Alya, played by Ma, who had remained in Afghanistan with the girls’ mother. While Alya is worried that Meena’s Western attire will endanger her, Meena feels liberated and loves that her high heels make a sound when she walks. On the surface, the sisters appear to be polar opposites, but the play emphasizes that they still have so much in common. For example, when Meena confesses that she has been held by a man, Alya is horrified, but immediately asks to hear more. In the midst of the sisters’ conversations, however, Sergio, played by Okafor, enters the scene, remembering a night of drinking with his friends and calling for his mother. Though Meena and Alya insist that Sergio is in the desert, he is convinced that he’s at home in Indiana. As the characters attempt to piece together their versions of events, they slowly realize that they are all dying; Meena and Alya were killed running away from a group of soldiers that included Sergio, who was soon after killed by a landmine. Additionally, in reality, Meena had never even left Afghanistan, and her memory of being held by a man is that of Sergio cradling her in an attempt to save her life after shooting her.
“Among other things, this is a play about reality and how we choose to deal with the hard truth. The world of the play seems to feel real at first, but as the show progresses, the more cracks you begin to see in this reality, and by the time the show finishes, you understand that what the characters believed in at the start was a false image, an ideal, even, and eventually they need to learn to accept their fates,” said Lim.
Additionally, as the characters’ understanding of their own circumstances evolved, the audience’s impression of the initially simplistic characters shifted as well.
“Meena is such a resilient and defiant character to the point of fault. In fact, Alexa suggested that that was her fatal flaw,” said Lim. “Alya is definitely more conservative than her, but she’s got her own strength, and I love her change when she becomes a sort of oracle-like figure and calls the shots by the end of the show. She was the most enigmatic character of them all, but that’s what made her so fascinating.”
Okafor said, “My character, Sergio, is very strong willed and determined. He was steadfast in his role in the army and his position in his household. I like how there are basically two sides to his persona; the soldier and the mama’s boy. Throughout the play, he shifts identities to best fit each situation.”
The Theatre Classroom features a thrust stage, in which the audience surrounds the actors on three sides, creating an intimate setting that Lim took advantage of as he staged the play. The only props the show used were Sergio’s cot and three sandbags, which represented the character’s bodies.
Lim said, “More of your attention goes to the actors since they fill the space much more, and we really made use of the full stage. This play feels very personal and tender, and I knew that an effective use of the thrust could help create a more intimate and shared experience.”
Despite the play’s short length and sparse set, Lim felt that it conveyed a powerful message.
“[‘No Such Cold Thing’] is, among many things, a war play, and I felt thrilled to be contributing to a more political and relevant theatre culture that [Allen] Grimm had been developing recently. I think it’s amazing that even though the play is only 30 minutes long, it goes through an incredibly moving journey and deals with so many themes,” said Lim.