Between crime and punishment


ISLAMABAD: Lorilei, the much-anticipated theatre play took off with a slow start at the Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) auditorium on Sunday evening.

The two-day performance featured monologues by lead actors Nimra Bucha and Sania Saeed, who performed the same role in two different languages. While Nimra opened the play in English on the first day, the following day Sania enacted the character in Urdu.

Written by Tom Wright, the play narrates the true story of Lorilei Guillory, a woman who sets out to save the life of Ricky Langley, a mentally-challenged man who murdered her six-year-old son.

Dealing with the dilemma of difficult emotions, the play depicts how the single mother develops compassion, mercy and sympathy for Ricky — rising above the bitter resentment of seeking revenge, and instead campaigns against his execution.

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The play is based on the transcriptions of an actual court hearing from Louisiana. Clive Stafford Smith, Ricky’s lawyer since 1993, also attended the play. “Lorilei is one of my all-time favourite heroes, because when you think about it — I have a seven-year-old — and we as parents, try to teach our children compassion. Then bizarrely, the [any] government tends to say you should show vengefulness and hatred,” said the British-American lawyer.

Clive, who is still fighting for Ricky, revealed it was a dreadful task to conclude a verdict between life and death. He paid tribute to Lorilei, calling her a fantastic person who was still fighting the case.

Beyond the theatre performances, Clive mentioned he was in talks with some of his famous friends to have a Hollywood film made on the true story of Lorilei, who he said, had not been recognised for the heroine she was.

In essence, the story is based on hard-won forgiveness, beyond one’s experience of an unimaginable and an unspeakable tragedy against soul-numbing odds.

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Nimra debuted as the central character in the play that was previously performed by Nadia Jamil and Sania in Lahore last year. “I was more nervous about this performance than I’ve been about any other in the past. It was really tough to decide whether to use a microphone or not, because the acoustics at the PNCA are really bad,” Nimra told The Express Tribune, following the performance.

In the minimalist stage setting, with rays of light gently cascading over her through subsequent scenes, Nimra transitioned into various emotional states, opening up the many facades of tragedy before turning to compassion.

“This is really the kind of play that needs to be very intimate. Whatever you’re telling the audience, the horrific details in particular, it’s just like you want to barely hear it yourself, you don’t want it shouted at you.”

During the course of the play, there was pin-drop silence in the auditorium. The audience seemed engrossed and receptive as the uncomfortable story unfolded through every scene.

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Actor Rehan Sheikh, who was in the audience, said, “I enjoyed the performance thoroughly. It’s very difficult to do a solo performance, I’ve done it and I know it. It was a challenging and thought-provoking play. It was a very engaging performance and Nimra did a wonderful job.”

Still, others in the audience alluded to certain technical glitches including sound and light, which took away from an otherwise powerful performance itself.

An initiative of the Justice Project Pakistan, the play is all set to be presented by Nimra and Sania in Karachi, comprising performances in English on December 17 and December 19 and in Urdu on December 18 and December 20.

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