By Jennifer Lunz and Weston Gleffe
Northlight Theatre, under the direction of Artistic Director BJ Jones and Executive Director Timothy J. Evans, continues its 2023–2024 season with the suspenseful 2022 Pulitzer Prize Finalist Selling Kabul by Sylvia Khoury. The production is directed by recent Northlight Artistic Fellow Hamid Dehghani. The production runs January 25 – February 25, 2024, at Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd in Skokie, Illinois.
This suspenseful drama about family and sacrifice is a must see. Taroon once served as an interpreter for the U.S. military in Afghanistan. Now that the Americans have withdrawn, along with their promises of protection, Taroon spends his days in hiding, a target of the increasingly powerful Taliban. On the day his son is born, he must choose between staying safe but trapped in his sister’s apartment, or risking his own life to see his child.
The cast of Selling Kabul includes Owais Ahmed (Taroon), Ahmad Karnal (Jawid), Aila Ayilam Peck (Afiya), and Shadee Vossoughi (Leyla).The creative team includes Joseph Johnson (set design), David Arevalo (costume design), Maximo Grano de Oro (light design), Josh Schmidt (sound design), Mariah Bennett (props design). Juan Barrera López (assistant director), Awesta Zarif and Sahar Sediqi (cultural consultants), and Rita M. Vreeland (stage manager).
Hamid Dehghani (Director) is a director, playwright, and actor, recently seen in Northlight’s Andy Warhol in Iran, which was a phenomenal performance in itself. Set during wartime, the US withdrawal and Taliban takeover in Afghanistan in 2013, Selling Kabul is an extremely powerful and intense story, which focuses on family, sacrifice, love and loyalty.
Every aspect of this production is exquisite. The script keeps you on the edge of your seat until all ninety minutes come to an end. As the audience member, you never quite know what will happen the to the four characters in a single apartment room.
I absolutely love the cast. Ahmed’s performance as Taroon is convincing and emotional as a new father who must make the difficult decision of staying safe (and alive), or risk death to see his newborn son. He starts to feel like a prisoner, stuck hiding in his sister’s apartment to just survive and stay alive. He is wrapped up in a serious and tragic dilemma. But when he hears that his wife had his son, he is torn between continuing to hide or risking his life and his entire family’s and friends’.
Peck as Taroon’s sister is also exceptional. She and her husband, Jawid (also an amazing performance by Karnal), are stressed and worried, as they are Taroon’s safety keepers, which is no easy feat. They do fairly well with income, as the couple is forced to sew and sell uniforms to the Taliban, which is also kept quiet. They must also lie at times to Taroon to keep him calm and not do anything rash. They also go out of their way to ensure their secrets are kept from Leyla (an amazing, heartfelt portrayal by Vossough), Afita’s good friend and neighbor.
Over the course of the play, tension increasingly mounts, as the story proceeds with the Taliban closing in from all angles around Taroon’s family and friends. People are hurt and threatened trying to pressure them into turning him in. When a family friend is pushed past their limit, by pursuers, Taroon’s family realizes they must act swiftly to arrange for him to be smuggled out of the country, even if it comes at an extraordinary cost.
Kudos to Selling Jabul’s impressive set design as well. The play offers a lovely, yet simple and convincing inside peak into a typical Afghan home, complete with small kitchen, counter, living room and sleeping arrangements. It is all packed into one small, claustrophobic apartment room, in the hustle and bustle of the busy and dangerous city of Kabul.
The message of Selling Kabul rings true and is relevant in the present times, as the Taliban continues the control Afghanistan and its citizens in every aspect of their lives. It opens your eyes to the realities of war, and the consequences people face as a result of their participation and actions. The side you choose to be on and be loyal to does not always result or end the way you hope it will. You are swept into a very scary, real and tense situation that illustrates what reality might be like under a tyrannical extremist leadership. It is a dystopian nightmare that infiltrates the life of every person involved, and where there is no freedom and an overwhelming level of paranoia and danger.
Selling Kabul is a masterful telling of an emotional story where the audience wants to root and cheer on every character. Are there both antagonists and protagonists in this story? Or Is everyone just trying to do what they can to save and protect the ones they love, having to make very difficult decisions? How long will they need to wait for the United States government to help save the people who were loyal and helped during the war against the Taliban?
Photos: Michael Brosilow
Selling Kabul runs at the Northlight Theater in Skokie, Illinois from February 3-25, 2024.
For more information or to get tickets, visit the theater website or call (847) 673-6300.