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Resilience, Hope and Love: Nadine Malouf's Journey in ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns'

"There are so many incredibly complex and beautiful female relationships in this play," Nadine Malouf, who plays Laila in "A Thousand Splendid Suns," tells NBC 7.

Heartache, resilience, persistence and, above all, love.

These are some of the themes at the center of "A Thousand Splendid Suns," making its West Coast premiere at The Old Globe. 

At the heart of that journey is Laila, a young Afghan girl played by Nadine Malouf The Old Globe's production of the play. Malouf originated the role a year ago at American Conservatory Theater (ACT), where the play received its world premiere. 

When Malouf first read the script over a year ago, she was drawn to the universality of the play. 

"It's quite rare to find a play that deals with female friendship and examines that and explores the strength of women," Malouf said in a phone interview with NBC 7 San Diego. 

The play, based on the best-selling book, takes audiences to 1990s Kabul, where we follow three generations of Afghan women and their resilience and strength during tough circumstances and the friendships that form as a result.

"She weathers a lot," Malouf said of her character, Laila. "You see this young girl who in the book is nicknamed the Revolutionary Girl because she has such fire and such entitlement and has been told that she can do anything and be anything that she wants. You see this girl as she grows, really deteriorate."

It's her friendship with Mariam, played by Denmo Ibrahim, and her relationship with her children, that keep her alive and keep her going, Malouf said. 

"There are so many incredibly complex and beautiful female relationships in this play," Malouf said. "You don’t see that (often), and I think it's a real shame."

When the play first premiered last year, Malouf said, the political climate timed up with the play in a way that made it feel electric: the women's march had just happened, and with that activism as the backdrop, the show took on a new relevance. 

In the year since that production, Malouf said, the actors involved have had the unique chance to take time off and return to the piece to re-examine the characters and the play. 

The more Malouf digs into her character, she said, the more she learns; perhaps one of the biggest lessons she's taken away is the quiet strength of women. 

"Men are the quiet heroes, the ones who go and fight - I'm speaking generally, obviously - and it's the women who stay at home and raise the children and carry on and live," Malouf said. "In so many cultures, we don't tend to give those women the admiration and the respect of that strength."

When women come and see "A Thousand Splendid Suns," Malouf said, they may find themselves leaving with a shared understanding. 

"It's no longer about culture or religion," she said. "It's about something else. It's about what women endure, silently, and what they cannot speak."

The play touches on a number of issues we as a collective society are grappling with right now, Malouf said: the Middle East, refugees, women's role in society, domestic abuse and more.

But throughout all the struggle in the play, Malouf said, there are overwhelming themes of love.

"(This play) has a great deal of love and I think that's something, with all these headlines that we see about the Middle East and terrorism - it can get quite daunting, and seem nihilistic, and this play has such heart and such love that I think is so important," she explained.

When audiences walk out, Malouf said, she hopes they are inspired to ask questions and start conversations. 

"Quite often, when we do plays, to provide answers is kind of an end to exploration and conversation," Malouf said. "I would hope that an audience would begin to see things differently and wonder why things are the way they are and question things further and keep going, and to allow this show to transcend cultural and religious context - and that we're able to connect in a human way."

"A Thousand Splendid Suns" runs at The Old Globe from May 12 to June 17, 2018. The play, written by Ursula Rani Sarma and based on the book by Khaled Hosseini, is making its Southern California debut. The piece is directed by Carey Perloff; put on in association with American Conservatory Theater. For tickets, click here

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