Will a former Afghani U.S. Armed Forces interpreter get himself and his family out of the country before he’s captured by the Taliban in 2013? This is the crux of playwright Sylvia Khoury’s gripping, thoughtful and suspenseful drama, Selling Kabul. In a straight through 100 minutes, Ms. Khoury crafts an accessible overview of that conflict, sets up a compelling story and employs a classic plot device. Khoury’s smooth passionate dialogue imparts exposition and biographical details while advancing action with technical accomplishment.
The idealistic Taroon is in his early 30’s and has been hiding out in his protective sister Afiya’s Kabul apartment for the last four months. The Taliban seek to detain him for his pro-American activities as a U.S. translator. Taroon optimistically believes he and his pregnant wife will get U.S. visas due to his helpful actions while he endures his traumatic self-imposed isolation. His sympathetic brother-in-law, the noble tailor Jawid, does all he can under the increasingly dire circumstances. Posing complications is a comic relief neighbor, Leyla, wanting to socialize while the Taliban are getting closer, unwittingly putting everyone in danger.
With his quavering voice and everyman youthfulness, Dario Ladani Sanchez’s Taroon is a full-blooded portrait of a hot-headed dreamer. As Afiya, the captivating Marjan Neshat dramatically ranges from wistful to furious. The soulful Mattico David’s take on Jawid, a tailor who makes Taliban uniforms, is that of a weary heroic survivor. Mr. David and Ms. Neshat’s loving rapport enriches their characterizations. The delightfully bubbly Francis Benhamou as Leyla is initially a wondrously humorous pest. Ms. Benhamou masterfully surprises.
Director Tyne Rafaeli’s staging is crisp, though sensitive, and includes an atmospheric preamble and coda, complementing the subject matter. Scenic designer Arnulfo Maldonado provides a fine basic living room with a kitchen in view where its windows become ominous. Montana Levi Blanco’s costume design mixes contemporary Western wear with native pieces for an authentic achievement.
The collaborative talents of lighting designers Jen Schriever and Alex Fetchko and sound designer Lee Kinney yield an entrancing visual and aural environment, conjuring the locale with its attendant dread. There are eerie shadows and jarring sounds of a baby crying, helicopters and rumbling cars.
Written in 2015, Selling Kabul was first performed in 2019 at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, this New York City premiere is presented by Playwrights Horizons. Besides being substantive entertainment it’s also subtly informative. By the end, one has been factually and viscerally enlightened about the traumatic lengthy U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan.
Selling Kabul (through December 23, 2021)
Peter Jay Sharp Theater at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.playwrightshorizons.org
Running time: one hour and 40 minutes without an intermission