‘Selling Kabul’ Holds Up a New Mirror After the Taliban Takeover


In March 2020, “Selling Kabul” was simply two weeks from beginning previews when the theater trade out of the blue went dark.

The set — a modest lounge in the Afghan capital — sat empty for over 19 months, one other abandoned apartment in Midtown Manhattan. Still, the forged and crew stayed in touch, repeatedly video chatting and sharing their ongoing analysis.

But in August, when the United States ended its longest conflict and the Taliban took over, their conversations modified. What did their play imply now, on this new geopolitical actuality? Had their obligation to their characters modified? What reminiscences and frustrations would audiences now be bringing to the efficiency?

“We were in almost daily contact about the changing situation in Afghanistan,” the director, Tyne Rafaeli, stated, “and starting to understand and analyze how that changing situation was going to affect our play.”

Sylvia Khoury, the playwright, additionally wrestled with the new resonance of her work. Ultimately, she determined to not alter the textual content, eager to honor the historic second and the particular person experiences that had generated it.

“The time that we’re in really colors certain moments of the play in different ways,” Khoury stated in a video interview final month after the present started previews. “I haven’t changed them. A play is a fixed thing, as history continues.”

“Selling Kabul” takes place in 2013, as the Obama administration started its long withdrawal of troops. Khoury wrote it in 2015, after talking with a number of interpreters ready for Special Immigrant Visas. And as a result of that visa program, created by Congress to give refuge to Afghans and Iraqis who helped the U.S. navy, requires rigorous vetting, many have been caught in bureaucratic limbo for years. Now many American allies and companions stay in the nation, probably weak to Taliban reprisals.

“That time elapsed really speaks to a profound moral failure,” Khoury stated. “That time elapsing, in itself, really showed us our own shame.”

“Selling Kabul,” a Playwrights Horizons manufacturing that opened earlier this month and is scheduled to shut Dec. 23, shines a gentle on the human value of America’s international conflicts. It neither reprimands its viewers nor presents catharsis. Instead, Khoury delivers an intense, intimate take a look at 4 folks caught in a internet of inconceivable selections.

“If I still bit my nails I would have no nails left now,” Alexis Soloski wrote in her review for The New York Times.

In the play, Taroon, who was an interpreter for the U.S. navy, is ready for a promised visa. He has simply grow to be a father — his spouse had their son simply earlier than the play begins — however he can’t be with them. He’s in hiding at his sister Afiya’s condominium, the place he has been holed up for 4 months hoping to evade the Taliban. But on this night, they appear to be rising nearer and nearer.

Taroon has to depart Kabul. And he has to depart quickly.

“Beyond the headlines, this play homes in on the detail, the intense detail of how this foreign policy affects these four people, on this day, in this apartment,” Rafaeli stated.

Told in actual time, the 95-minute play is carried out with out an intermission. As concern intensifies and violence creeps nearer, the 4 characters battle to maintain secrets and techniques, and to maintain each other alive, however they’re additionally compelled to make selections that would endanger the others.

“There’s not really one bad person, and they’re not just in a difficult circumstance; they’re in an impossible circumstance,” stated Marjan Neshat, who performs Afiya.

The coronavirus pandemic has modified the tone of the play, too. During an earlier run in 2019 at the Williamstown Theater Festival, audiences may solely think about Taroon’s claustrophobia. Now, they’ll keep in mind. Khoury stated she hopes that viewers come away with an understanding of how their particular person actions can have an effect on folks they’ll by no means meet.

“As Americans, we used to think it was enough to tend our own gardens,” Khoury stated. “Now, I think we’re realizing: It’s not even close to enough.”

Khoury wrote “Selling Kabul” whereas in medical faculty at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Pulling from conversations with Afghan interpreters, and from her circle of relatives historical past, she weaves a nuanced portrait of the delusion of America.

“No one that I ever spoke to was ever unclear that they wanted to come to America,” she stated. “It was safer for them.”

In the play, Afiya’s neighbor Leyla remembers the troopers as enjoyable, even good-looking. Afiya — who speaks English higher than Taroon does, regardless of being compelled out of faculty when the Taliban took management in the Nineties — thinks Americans are untrustworthy.

“To me, America is just the great abandoner,” stated Neshat, explaining her character’s view. “Like, ‘You promised this thing that you could never fulfill. And, how dare you?’”

And for Taroon, America is a promise. “America, their word is good,” he tells Afiya.

When “Selling Kabul” was first performed at the Williamstown Theater Festival, Donald Trump was president. That was a chuckle line. Now, there aren’t many chuckles, however Taroon’s conviction nonetheless stings.

“Our word still is not good,” Khoury stated. “That’s something that’s difficult to admit on this side of the political spectrum.”

Realizing that her play may go away viewers members questioning what they’ll do to assist, Khoury began a private fund-raiser for the International Refugee Assistance Project, which can comply with the play because it strikes to different cities. Information about the charity is tucked inside every Playbill.

“Not giving people somewhere to go after felt like a missed opportunity,” Khoury stated.

The playwright additionally held up a ethical mirror to audiences in “Power Strip,” a story about Syrian refugees at a migrant camp in Greece, which debuted at Lincoln Center in 2019. In “Selling Kabul,” her characters additionally stand on the precipice of leaving virtually every part they know.

“The stories of how we left are the fabric of my childhood, from country to country, in pretty extreme circumstances,” stated Khoury, who’s of Lebanese and French descent, and whose household has been affected by colonial and imperial shifts throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

“Who are you, before you leave? Who is the person who makes the decision to go?” she stated, including, “And it’s without saying goodbye, in most of the stories I know. It’s immediately. It’s taking the first truck you can.”

As audiences filed out of the theater after a current efficiency, one buddy turned to a different. Where do you suppose they’re now? she puzzled. What occurred to them?

For Neshat, who was born in Iran and moved to the United States when she was 8, that’s virtually too painful to consider.

“How do you choose between your best friend neighbor and your brother?” she stated of the play’s excruciating dilemmas. “Like, how do you do that?”

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