Mystical work inspires playwright

July 6, 2004

NAANTALI, Finland — After watching a play called "The Seven Valleys," drama teacher Hanna-Mari Aflatuni said she wished she could have joined the actors on stage.

"It was deeply moving and thought provoking," she said of the play, which was written by Tuula Kuitunen and performed by the Naantali Amateur Theater troupe.

"It was wonderful how devotedly all the participants took part in the performance," she said.

The play is based on "The Seven Valleys," a work by Baha'u'llah that depicts the journey of the human soul.

After its premiere won a highly favorable review in a Finnish newspaper, the play has been repeatedly performed to enthusiastic audiences, most recently in Lappeenranta in July.

The play has been staged several times at the renowned Naantali Theatre, which was awarded the Naantali city art prize in 2001.

"The Seven Valleys" includes seven songs, each symbolizing a different spiritual stage described by Baha'u'llah -- the valleys of search, love, knowledge, unity, contentment, wonderment, and true poverty and absolute nothingness.

In the play, two narrators guide the traveler as he arrives at different stages of his journey. Quotations from Baha'u'llah depict the valleys and the challenges the traveler goes through in order to reach his goal. Songs and dances portray his feelings throughout the production.

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In his review of the November 2003 premiere for the regional newspaper "Rannikkoseudun sanomat," Pentti Narvanen wrote that "even in the most pious church events one cannot experience such harmony of spiritual elements."

"I have never experienced a similar feeling in theatre or in any other event," Mr. Narvanen said. "This was food for the soul, unbelievably touching."

Mr. Narvanen said "the symphony of visual effects, music, voice, and the lighting" of the play seemed to have had a great impact on the audience.

Playwright Tuula Kuitunen, a Baha'i, also composed the music. She said that the performance presents the audience with the opportunity to have a spiritual experience in a new and refreshing manner.

"An artistic experience goes deeper to the core of an individual; it touches the senses, the emotions, the heart, the mind, the spirit, and the intellect," Mrs. Kuitunen said.

"As a piece of art, I feel 'The Seven Valleys' expresses the same universal and spiritual themes from which all cultures, performing arts, literature, and sciences have originated," she said.

Mrs. Kuitunen, is a pharmacist and a mother of four children, is from Naantali, on the southern coast of the country. She has previously composed songs for children's classes as well as for adults, based on Baha'i history.

The idea of the play came when she and other members of a Baha'i study circle started holding devotional gatherings that are open to the public.

Study circles, devotional gatherings, and as children's classes are organized throughout the world by Baha'i communities, who invite attendance by all, regardless of background.

"In the beginning we used recorded classical or other music, but little by little I began to use my own," she said.

"I have noticed that the combination of the holy word and music can be a very spiritual experience."

Mrs. Kuitunen first read Baha'u'llah's work "The Seven Valleys" when she joined the Baha'i community in 1972 and ever since she has wanted to explore its themes.

Her family assisted her to realize her dream. Directing the play is her husband, Mikko Kuitunen, 53, who is also one of the actors. He has been the director and producer of the Naantali Theatre for 10 years.

Their daughter, Elina Kuitunen, 16, is one of the cast, while her brother, Jarkko, 26, is responsible for the technical aspects of the play.

One of the performers, Timo Hokkanen, 43, who is not a Baha'i, said that the play made him think about the real meaning and purpose of life.

"The play uses silence, melody, and harmony as a road to relaxation," said Mr. Hokkanen, whose wife, Sirkka, and their two children, are among the 15-strong cast.

He said that many audience members have told him they want to see the performance again.