“Selling Kabul” is a tale of suspense under the Taliban

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Afsheen Misaghi and Atra Asdou are holding each other
Afsheen Misaghi and Atra Asdou. Premiere Stages 2023 production of Selling Kabul. Photo by Mike Peters.
Afsheen Misaghi and Atra Asdou talking to each other
Afsheen Misaghi and Atra Asdou.
Premiere Stages 2023 production of Selling Kabul.
Photo by Mike Peters.

Premiere Stages at Kean University in Union is presenting the New Jersey premiere of a new play by Sylvia Khoury. It is Selling Kabul, and it is set during a tense 24-hour period in a cramped apartment in Kabul under the Taliban’s renewed reign of terror in 2013.

The apartment belongs to Afiya (Atra Asdou) and her husband Jawid (Afsheen Misaghi). Afiya’s brother Taroon (Zaven Ovian), who is staying with them, was an interpreter with the American forces in Afghanistan and is being hunted by the Taliban. Taroon’s wife has just given birth ahead of schedule to their first child, a baby boy, and Taroon is frantic with wanting to see his wife and new son the night of the birth.

But going to the hospital would not only put Taroon in mortal danger; it would put Afiya and Jawid in peril as well. Complicating matters are next-door neighbor Leyla (Anat Cogan), married and with her own baby son, who seems to want to spend an inordinate amount of time in Afiya’s apartment.

Khoury’s play, as directed by Taylor Reynolds and performed by the cast, maintains a sense of urgency bordering on panic throughout its taut 90+ minutes. She also has her four characters share two characteristics. First, each of them carries guilt about actions past or present. Second, each of them is keeping secrets from the others. The combination of the two adds a layer of “who will crack first?” to the play’s tensions.

However, the play has a huge hole in it. We are told at the start of the play that the walls to Afiya’s apartment are thin; indeed, we hear Leyla’s baby, in the next-door apartment down the hall, crying intermittently throughout the show. Yet in moments of great stress and disagreement, all the characters raise their voices so that it would be almost impossible not to know that someone named Taroon was in Afiya’s apartment. If the actors were not constantly reminded to keep uppermost in their minds that intense emotion could not be expressed through vocal volume, then this problem could be laid at the feet of the director.

Selling Kabul is a play that engages the audience almost from the start. Its breakneck speed is like an emotional, theatrical roller coaster ride, and its ending may just well leave one breathless. For those who like their suspense with a touch of current events, Selling Kabul would be a play worth seeing.

Selling Kabul is presented by Premiere Stages at the Bauer Boucher Theatre Center on the campus of Kean University in Union through September 24, 2023.

For more information or to purchase tickets, go to premierestagesatkean.com or call 908-737-4092.