by Carol Rocamora . . .

“America – their word is good!!” 

He clings to that hope, like a drowning man hanging on a deflating life preserver, desperate to believe those hollow words. 

The year is 2013; the place is Kabul, Afghanistan.  The man is Taroon (Dario Ladani Sanchez), a former interpreter for the Americans, now hunted by the Taliban.  He hides in the closet of the apartment where his sister Afiya (Marjan Neshat) has sheltered him, waiting for his visa (promised by his American employer) to leave the country with his family.    Every knock on the door brings terror – whether it’s the nosy neighbor Ledya (Francis Benhamou) or Jawid, Afiya’s husband (Mattico David), bringing the news that Taroon’s wife has given birth prematurely in the hospital.   Now Taroon is desperate to see his newborn son, despite his sister’s warning that his pursuers are closing in at any moment.

Mattico David, Frances Benhamou, Marjan Neshat

Such are the circumstances of Selling Kabul, Sylvia Khoury’s harrowing, heartbreaking thriller, now playing at Playwrights’ Horizons.  Prepare yourself – it’s a terrifying, wild ride, and you’ll be holding whatever breath you have left till the end.  

This powerful play succeeds on two levels.  With the recent news that the US has pulled out of Afghanistan after an endless war, putting its local supporters (interpreters, etc.) in peril, Taroon’s predicament couldn’t be more timely.  But US involvement in Afghanistan isn’t the only story. Selling Kabul is also a story of betrayal – of one’s family and one’s country – in order to survive.  Taroon puts his entire family (and their neighbors) in danger for a job he took to impress his friends.  Afiya’s secret sheltering of her brother puts her neighbor Leyla’s family in danger, with devastating consequences. Meanwhile, Jawid, her husband, as it turns out, is working for the Taliban, in order to provide a comfortable life for his family.  “I sold Kabul for a TV set,” Jawid said, indicating that he has betrayed his country as well as his family. “Your sister can’t sleep for the shame.”

Dario Ladani Sanchez

Tyne Rafaeli directs a pitch-perfect cast on Arnulfo Maldonado’s realistic set, featuring an ordinary apartment that becomes the setting for a political and personal tragedy of our times.

“This is not a new story of betrayal,” playwright Sylvia Khoury writes in her moving introduction to the play.  “Every family has one, if you look far enough.  I had to go three generations back to locate mine.  As for Taroon – and other individuals like him – their story is now, and we are failing them. 

Ms. Khoury, of French-Lebanese origin, has set aside a career as a medical doctor to pursue a vigorous playwrighting career and tell the urgent stories of today.  Her play Power Strip dramatizes the plight of Syrian refugees; her play Selling Kabul dramatizes the tragedy of today’s Afghanistan.   “In my life,” she said in a recent Playbill interview, “the place to really examine what it means to be a human and what our world is and what it could be, that’s all in theatre.”

Selling Kabul by Sylvia Khoury, directed by Tyne Rafaeli, at Playwrights’ Horizons, now through December 23.

Photos: Joan Marcus