I never got to a place of understanding with America’s longest war: I am sure it shows my geopolitical naivete that it made no sense to me that we went to battle in Afghanistan after 9/11–it seemed like a side war. But this nation likes to go all in on conflicts and once we have spilled our blood in a foreign land we don’t want to leave til we “win” . Except that in Afghanistan, there were no winners. Least of all the over 75,000 Afghani’s who aided America during the 21 year debacle, now stranded in limbo: in life threatening danger somewhere between here and there. You will come to an uncomfortable and visceral confrontation with this truth with the powerful Selling Kabul, Sylvia Khoury’s 2022 Pulitzer finalist play now on view at Northlight Theater.
The play purports to be about Taroon, the one time translator for American soldier Jeff, who has now returned stateside. It’s 2013 and Taliban is back in control, America is pulling troops home, and Taroon(played with hot headed passion by Owais Ahmed) is in hiding at his sister’s house. No one can know where he is, not even his pregnant wife. When she gives birth to his son (we will soon find out it is a premature birth brought on by the Taliban throwing her down the stairs) he wants to see his new baby but to do so will put everyone in mortal danger. This play, especially as directed with steady sensitivity by Hamid Dehghani, is really about the sister, Afiyah,played with exceptional range and compassion by Aila Ayilam Peck. Afiyah must navigate the fraught dangers of protecting her brother, taking care of her sister in law, new nephew, husband, and the nosy next door neighbor. She must do it all by making tea, keeping her brothers go pack stocked and stitching uniforms. And she needs to make terrible choices. Her husband Jawid (the gentle Ahmad Kamal)has made so many compromises to keep his extended family safe and he pays a profound price: he has sold his soul, tailoring Taliban uniforms to hide in plain sight and still he is beaten outside the hospital by men waiting for Taroon to show up. Jeffrey Levin’s sound design builds the tension and heightens the sense of fear: Everyone’s life is in danger, the threat grows larger by the minute, and Taroon keeps hoping a visa will arrive from the US to save them. Afiyah has no illusions, but she is the ultimate hero. This play will rock you to your core.
This is not a story that will give you a good feeling about being part of this war machine: it brings the battle and its unintended consequences and collateral damage down to the ground and into a small apartment where simple lives are trying to be lived. But it will speak to the ultimate humanity of some people in the face of the terrible things people can do to each other. It asks: what is the price of love?
Selling Kabul, now on view at Northlight Theatre at the Northshore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard in Skokie, Wednesdays through Sundays through February 25th, is an important play and a heavy work of art that tells us about ourselves. For tickets and information go to https://northlight.org/events/selling-kabul/
Photo by Michael Brosilow
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