CENTER STAGE: LORILEI

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A PLAY THAT QUESTIONS THE NORMS OF SOCIETY AND THE EXTENT OF HUMAN CRUELTY, LORILEI HAD ALL OF LAHORE BUZZING. BASED ON A TRUE STORY ABOUT A BRAVE, RESILIENT, INTELLIGENT AND COMPASSIONATE MOTHER, LORILEI IS THE VOICE OF REASON HIDDEN WITHIN US ALL. SALEEHA SHAH REVIEWS THIS LATEST STAGE HIT, STARRING SANIA SAEED AND NADIA FAZAL JAMIL IN TWO SEPARATE PERFORMANCES, EACH DIRECTING THE OTHER.

Lorilei. Do you know what that means? For the packed audience in Hall 2 of Alhamra Lahore, it meant looking at the world through the eyes of a resilient woman; a woman who lost everything the night she lost her son when he was lured into a neighbours house by the schizophrenic pedophile Ricky Langley and strangled from behind, but who went on to find compassion for the very murderer she would once have killed with her bare hands.

Written by Thomas Wright, the play is a monologue that takes the audience step by step from the nerve-wracking moment of Lorilei Guillory’s son Jeremy’s abduction, to the discovery of his body with a sock stuffed down his throat, and then to the resulting trials of his murderer. You see her journey from an ordinary small town woman, to a mother torn apart by grief and anger and her eventual transformation into a woman who rises up against the established norms of society, as she takes up the fight against the cruelty of death penalty.

Veteran actress Nadia Jamil’s masterful portrayal of Lorilei was riveting, and her pathos as a mother of two young boys reverberates throughout her performance. From her first nervous “hello”, one is able to relate to and feel for her. Her scream at the realization of her son’s death sends chills down the spine and, what’s more heart wrenching, is her disorientation and deteriorating mental health when she willingly admits to having become a drug addict as a result of her trauma.

The director’s minimal use of sets and lightings neither detracts nor distracts from the importance of the message and was overall extremely well executed. Sania Saeed’s quiet appearances as Ricky Langley, gives the audience the opportunity to witness his mental instability firsthand. As Lorilei feels she needs to know more about the man who killed her son and how he came to be what he is, she unearths his life story and the years of neglect and abuse, literally from the moment of his conception when his mother was pumped full of drugs during her five months of pregnancy, of his years dealing with the apparition of his dead brother who would urge his worst excesses and how he saw that very brother, Oscar Lee, when he opened the door for Jeremy. This leads to her change of opinion on his punishment. Though as a mother she can never forgive him, she knows that Langley alone is not to blame for the death of her son, but that society contributed in making him what he is. She realized that condemning a man to death wouldn’t solve the problem at hand and that people like Langley need help dealing with their mental disorders. What stood out most was Nadia Jamil’s skills as a versatile actress. Her performance was absolutely riveting, and her standing ovation at the end was well-deserved.

This play brought to us by Justice Project Pakistan hits a raw nerve. Recently, in Lahore, we have seen the horrific case of Javed Iqbal Mughal, a serial killer who was found guilty for sexual abuse and killing of at least a hundred children. His family and neighbours had little or no idea of the depths of his depravity. Similarly, although the Pakistani state has an unofficial moratorium on capital punishment (the PPP has taken this stand on moral grounds after General Zia ul Haq hung President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s and many political parties have followed suit), whether execution for prisoners on death row should be legal is a lightning rod and a matter of debate today. Punishing criminals is imperative as it sets a legal precedent, but should life and death be in the hands of mortals?

The play brings to light many serious issues facing our communities today, where modernity brings with it a tendency to be ignorant of what’s happening beyond one’s four walls. It underscores the need for collective responsibility; the adage “what I cannot see, cannot harm me” does not apply anymore.


Saleeha Shah is a fashion designer from Lahore, running her own boutique, Uptown. In her spare time she likes to read, write and paint silly pictures.

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