A taut, politically charged thriller firmly grounded in the shadows of America’s retreat from Afghanistan, written by Sylvia Khoury and directed by Hamid Dehghani, “Selling Kabul” takes place entirely within the confines of a stifling Kabul apartment. The Americans have left the country months ago and Taroon (Owais Ahmed), a former interpreter for the U.S. military, hides from the Taliban in his sister’s apartment. There he desperately refreshes a wi-fi router, hoping against hope his former American partner will reach out with a visa for him and his pregnant wife (whom he has not seen for several very long months). This “Waiting for Godot”-type existence is shattered upon news of his son’s premature birth, which triggers a renewed interest by the Taliban as to the whereabouts of this former translator. The walls are closing in and Taroon is faced with many choices but no good answers. Complicating matters: a nosy neighbor and a brother in-law who keeps him and his sister safe while at the same time partnering with the Taliban.
Anchoring the production is Taroon’s sister Afiya (Aila Ayilam Peck) whose nervous demeanor belies a once vast, but now almost-depleted reservoir of inner strength. There is just something in the way Peck inhabits her character that allows the audience to feel her indecision and constant stress. Also impressive are Owais Ahmed as Taroon (who effectively conveys the restlessness anyone would feel after hiding out in an apartment for months on end) and Ahmad Kamal as Afiya’s pragmatic husband who has made some compromises in order to protect those that he loves. Injecting comedic relief is Shadee Vossoughi as Afiya’s friend and neighbor Leyla who has troubles of her own.
Credit director Hamid Dehghani’s crisp pacing which does not waste a single minute of its ninety-minute runtime. The tension slowly but surely ratchets up to the point where a character’s muffled scream into a pillow is deafening. The story itself is compelling, with the characters inhabiting a complicated and ever-changing world where sometimes a wanted man finds it necessary to dress himself in fatigues under a chador. It matters greatly here whom you trust, and Taroon was a fool to trust America. In post-war Afghanistan it is the heroes who suffer the greatest. Remarkably though, the production ends on a simple, hopeful note where the characters achieve some chance of salvation. It is not much, but in the end, it might be more than we can hope for.
On stage at Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie. (847)673-6300, northlight.org. $39-$74. Through February 25.