Casting the first stone

“A Stone Thrown at the Guilty,” a play in progress by Nuruddin Farah, examines the interior lives of Somali characters in the midst of two political uprisings.

Bruce A. Young reads lines during a rehearsal for A Stone Thrown at the Guilty on Saturday at Rarig Center.

Image by Bridget Bennett

Bruce A. Young reads lines during a rehearsal for “A Stone Thrown at the Guilty” on Saturday at Rarig Center.

by Joseph Kleinschmidt


What: “A Stone Thrown at the Guilty” staged reading

When: 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday

Where: Stoll Thrust Theatre, Rarig Center, 330 S. 21st Ave., Minneapolis

Cost: Free


Two moments from Somalia’s troubled history provide the basis for “A Stone Thrown at the Guilty,” a reminder of the costs of political oppression. The play, written by Somalia native and Neustadt International Prize-winning novelist Nuruddin Farah, depicts two uprisings under colonialism.

Inspired by the harsh British colonial rule in early 20th century Burco, a northwestern region of Somalia, Farah seeks the personal narratives behind the civic unrest of the era.

In 1922, a British district commissioner announced a poll tax on the people of Burco. “A Stone Thrown at the Guilty” follows the riots that soon erupted, born out of the political unrest among Somalis. Through a complex narrative driven by history, Farah seeks to humanize the topic of political strife.

Irina Brown, the director of numerous plays including at the London National Theatre, joins Farah to direct the staged reading of “A Stone Thrown at the Guilty.”

“It’s very rich material, and it has a lot of wonderful ideas and characters,” Brown said. “It reveals things which we don’t know about in the West — Somalia from inside.”

The untold stories present the domestic life of several Somalis, involving a multilayered thread of characters. Farah’s experience writing complex novels enriches the play, yet Brown provides her expertise to pare down the storytelling for a live audience.

“We’re only here to support and enable the playwright to get to the core of the next draft of the storytelling,” Brown said.

Together, with a local ensemble of professional actors and students, Farah and Brown take comments from the actors who are involved in the development of the play.

“We’re investigating the play. professor Farah is rewriting,” Brown said. “We are just exploring, and he allows us to just try it out.”

Attempts to standardize the spoken Somali language reflect an underlying tension Farah portrays in “A Stone Thrown at the Guilty.” The British colonizers introducing primary education clashed with a sect of the Somali population.

“Different people were pulling the language in different directions,” Farah said. “Naively, some Somalis thought, being Muslim, the language must be written in Arabic.”

When efforts to standardize the language began in the 1920s, many Somalis felt Islam would be compromised, especially if the Somali language would not be written in Arabic.

“They thought that by adopting the Roman script, they would be less Muslim,” Farah said.

The resulting discord between the interests of the British and Somali people of Burco becomes a palpable point of contention in Farah’s later historical re-imagining set in 1939. When a protester throws a stone aimed at a colonial officer, he strikes an interpreter instead. The British eventually arrest several protesters and execute one man.

The play doesn’t seek to provide a strictly factual account of the events but rather a human-based chronicle that even applies to Somalia’s current political tension.

“It’s not a lecture on politics,” Brown said. “It’s really live people who live real lives and have real problems.

Behind the political turmoil the region faces, the domestic lives of Somalis often remain unseen. Brown and Farah seek to explore the narrative in terms of individual reactions to the dramatic events.

“Everything in a situation of oppression is connected to political issues, even when you live day to day,” Brown said.