By Donna Herman
With “Selling Kabul” playwright Sylvia Khoury gives us a thoughtful, riveting exploration of the human costs of war once the fight is over for the state, but ongoing for the individuals decommissioned from the effort – on every level. Ripped from headlines during the 2011-2013 U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan “In Afghanistan, interpreters who helped U.S. in war denied visas; U.S. says they face no threat,” “Selling Kabul” revolves around Taroon (Dario Ladani Sanchez), an Afghani interpreter waiting for word about a promised American visa in 2013.
“Selling Kabul” was originally scheduled to open at Playwrights Horizons in March of 2020 but was delayed by Covid-19 to December 6, 2021. Tragically, it’s delayed New York City premier made its subject matter even more relevant with this summer’s haunting news photographs of Afghani aides and helpers to the withdrawing troops clamoring to leave the country on the last flights out.
Khoury’s taut, well-paced drama shows the devastating day-to-day realities of living in the aftermath of a bloody conflict in which your choices have put you in opposition to the ruling force. Taroon and his pregnant, off-stage wife, Bibi, are being hidden by his sister Afiya (Marjan Neshat) and her husband Jawid (Mattico David) in their Kabul apartment. Taroon, having been an interpreter for American troops, is being hunted by the Taliban as a traitor. When “Selling Kabul” opens, he is in the apartment alone, desperately waiting for word from the Americans about his Visa, and from Afiya about the birth of his two-week premature child. He cannot go outside and show his face or risk capture and certain death. Although Jawid, a tailor, has taken work with the Taliban in an effort to protect Afiya and Taroon and Bibi, if it is known they are hiding Taroon, their lives are at risk as well. They cannot even tell their closest friends that they even know where Taroon is, much less that they are physically hiding him
Taroon’s emotionally fueled determination to go to the hospital to see his newborn child and wife defy the commonsense realities of accomplishing the task without getting caught. Afiya and Jawid constantly must assure him that wife and child are well and promise that plans are being made for them to be reunited within a day or two.
As the day wears on, little by little, Afiya and Jawid must reveal to Taroon that the situation is dire, and he is close to being caught and must leave the country immediately, that night. The consequences of every decision all of them have made, from not telling friends Taroon’s whereabouts, to him having watched TV when nobody was supposed to be home, become shockingly clear.
From the cleverly designed set by Arnulfo Maldonado where the apartment doors have open grillwork at the top, to the windows ringing the apartment that must have shades drawn to hide what’s going on inside, the vulnerability of powerlessness is evident in every element of this production of “Selling Kabul.” Tyne Rafaeli’s sensitive direction gives each character the space to reveal their hopes and fears organically. And each of the actors give emotionally truthful life to their characters. Dario Ladani Sanchez is the embodiment of frustrated helplessness as Taroon. As Afiya, Marjan Neshat’s iron-controlled fear and determination ratchet up the tension in each scene. Francis Benhamou as best friend and neighbor Leyla provides the emotional catharsis for the entire play. Her immaculate portrayal of a mother and wife pushed to the breaking point blows away Taroon’s blindness to the agonizing consequences of his smallest choices. And Mattico David’s stalwart husband Jawid personifies the unheralded bravery and sacrifice of an Everyman faced with providing and caring for his family during perilous times.
“Selling Kabul” is a must-see not only for those who value great theater, but for those who value the virtue in promises kept.
“Selling Kabul” By Sylvia Khoury, Directed by Tyne Rafaeli.
WITH: Dario Ladani Sanchez (Taroon); Marjan Neshat (Afiya); Frances Benhamou (Leyla) and Mattico David (Jawid).
Scenic Design by Arnulfo Maldonado; Costume Design by Montana Levi Blanco; Lighting Design by Jen Schriever & Alex Fetchko; Sound Design by Lee Kinney; Presented by Playwrights Horizons at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 416 West 42nd Street, NYC. Playing through December 23rd, 2021. Masks, Vaccine Cards & ID required. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes with no intermission. For tickets visit the Box Office at the theater Tuesday through Friday from 2 — 6 PM; open until curtain time and on weekends on performance days. Or call 212-279-4200 or visit https://my.playwrightshorizons.org/events online.