Ensemble Theatre Company (ETC) opens 2023 with the California premier of “Selling Kabul,” Sylvia Khoury’s suspenseful, intimate play that explores personal experiences of wartime political reality in Afghanistan 10 years ago.
Set in a simple living space and spanning only a single day, “Selling Kabul” reveals the experience of Taroon (Rishan Dhamija), an Afghani former interpreter for the American military who is in hiding from the Taliban.
When the play opens, Taroon’s wife has just given birth in the hospital, and he’s scheming a way to visit her and meet his new son.
Fast and sharp dialogue melds humor, history, personality and culture.
And just in case you wonder about the accented English spoken on stage, know that the production is infused with the work of Mustafa Haidari, an actor, dialect coach, and Afghan cultural advisor.
Born and raised in Kabul, he has lived and worked in Los Angeles since 2008.
Complications of all sorts arise when Taroon’s sister Afiya (Nitya Vidyasagar) returns home with the birth news, carrying the weight of subterfuge, and keenly aware of danger at the hands of the Taliban, who occupy the city with a wrathful grip.
Afiya’s friend and neighbor Leyla (Christine Mirzayan) visits from across the hall to talk about life with her 5-month-old son, and to get the scoop on the new baby, making many references to Taroon and the mystery surrounding his whereabouts.
Finally, Afiya’s husband Jawid (Beejan Land) returns home with more news about events at the hospital. As part of their connecting, Afiya shares with Jawid that her nascent pregnancy didn’t pan out.
The life-affirming theme of birth and parenting map the narrative arc, providing both the peak and an unexpected resolution.
Director Nike Doukas last performed with ETC in “The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberly,” and her other acting and directorial credits include many of California’s most noted repertory theaters.
With minimal cast, set, and a short script, Doukas develops a world of epic scope within a one-bedroom apartment.
The depth and complexity conveyed through such a simple story, in such an intimate space, in relatively little time, could be in part thanks to the multi-talented nature of every member of the production: from the award-winning playwright herself, who is also an MD, to the actors, each of whom is an Equity partner and boasts multiple skills and experience.
Dhamija holds MFAs in both acting and dramatic writing. Vidyasagar was raised in India; studied acting with Stella Adler in New York; was the first Indian American character on “Sesame Street;” and performs extensively in both live theater and on television.
Land is fluent in five languages, writes plays in his native Australia, and recently closed 130 performances of his Broadway debut in “The Kite Runner” at the Hayes Theatre.
And Mirzayan teaches yoga in addition to her Broadway stage credits and diverse television work.
“Selling Kabul,” at the New Vic Theatre, 33 W. Victoria St., runs at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 19; with special performances at 7:30 p..m. Tuesday, Feb. 7, and 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11.
Buy tickets here, or call 805.965.5400.
Local arts critic Judith Smith-Meyer is a round-the-clock appreciator of the creative act.