blackbirdonline journalSpring 2018  Vol. 17 No. 1

Bookmark and Share Share

Kandahar to Canada
Introduction & Table of Contents

  Playwright’s Notes
Director’s Commentary
Kandahar to Canada

In Kandahar to Canada, Dan O’Brien depicts a moment in a young asylum seeker’s life that speaks to the larger ramifications of violence. O’Brien dramatizes the true story of Paul Watson, a Pulitzer Prize–winning photojournalist, escorting Roya Shams, an Afghan student fleeing the Taliban, to a private school in Ottawa. The play begins in an airport, acknowledging the contemporary difficulties of borders, both physical and cultural. By the end, the play gestures inward, and we feel the depth of Roya’s courage as she begins a new stage of her life.

Roya Shams at sixteen.

Roya Shams at sixteen.
Paul Watson
Toronoto Star

At its core, Kandahar to Canada is about the transformation of a young girl’s life. O’Brien comments on the transformational themes in his work: “I wrote Kandahar to Canada as a transition—a slip of a play, a dramatic elision: between Paul Watson’s work as a journalist in Afghanistan and his homecoming to Canada, between Roya Sham’s childhood in Kandahar and her adolescence at a boarding school in Ottawa, between the never-ending war ‘over there’ and our variably war-haunted lives as North Americans.” O’Brien’s play exists in accessible, familiar places of transition and uncertainty, both personal and global.

The form of this piece, unlike other Dan O’Brien plays published in Blackbird, is closer to poetry than to traditional drama. The form reflects the strangeness of the content; the lack of traditional dramatic structure means the lines of dialogue flow into each other and create a sense of timelessness that speaks to the “never-ending war.”

Kandahar to Canada premiered at Ensemble Studio Theater in Manhattan in 2013, directed by Mark Armstrong. Blackbird presents the play in one act, a commentary from O’Brien, and a commentary from Armstrong.

Dan O’Brien’s working relationship with Paul Watson began with The Body of an American, a play written by O’Brien and inspired by Watson’s 1994 Pulitzer Prize–winning photograph of a Somali mob dragging the body of an American soldier through the streets of Mogadishu. The Body of an American was first produced in 2012, and has been produced several times since. It won the Edward M. Kennedy Prize, the Horton Foote Prize, and the L. Arnold Weissberger Award. A portion of The Body of an American was turned into a libretto, which Blackbird published in v13n2.  bug