Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 28, 2010

Three Cups of Tea

University of Massachusetts, Ahmerst, MA
October 27, 2010
by Robbin M. Joyce

There's an African Proverb that goes, "Educate a boy and you educate an individual. Educate a girl and you educate a community." That is what Three Cups of Tea did for the UMass community. Male and female, young and old were in the audience to be educated on Greg Mortenson's quest to make a difference.

Actor Curtis Nielsen appeared in Wynn Handman's adaptation of Three Cups of Tea, written by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Redin. Handman took Mortenson's experiences and distilled them down into a 60+ minute series of vignettes about the first school he was able to build in Pakistan. These vignettes alternated in location between Pakistan and the U.S. The stage was bare, save for a single wooden bench representing Pakistan and two mismatched chairs representing the U.S. Perhaps the sparse set was an analogy for how little it takes to educate a child; a mere $600 will pay an annual salary for a teacher.

Nielsen took his audience on a virtual jeep ride of emotion. We sped around boulders, over speed bumps and went off-roading as he relayed the obstacles in his path from his original failed attempt to climb K2 and subsequent stumbling into a remote village whose children gave him his ultimate purpose in life: to promote peace one school at a time. Nielsen adeptly switched pace and volume according to where he was in the world. Although at times his inflection seemed overwhelmingly emphatic, ultimately the picture he painted was touching and real.

Once the story telling was over, the house lights came up for a Q&A session. It was a satisfying opportunity to gain a little more insight into both Nielsen's process and the Central Asia Institute, founded by Mortenson after his initial experiences relayed in this play. And if questions weren't enough, the audience could also donate to Pennies for Peace to help build schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan.