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A CurtainUp DC Review
Love in Afghanistan
Duke (played with efficiency but little spark by Khris Davis) is from an upper middle class background. He is on the Base to entertain the troops. His parents are educated and divorced and he, too, knows his way around literature and philosophy. The part he plays though is of a tough guy, a man of the street, a rapper who has made the big time with his first album; although he talks the talk and walks the walk it's an act that has served him well professionally and financially. Women throw themselves at him, except for Roya.
Roya is Afghani, gifted in languages. She works on the Base as an interpreter and interrogator, with a social conscience that leads her to sacrifice the possibility of a better life so that she can help less fortunate Afghani women. Roya's parents had an arranged marriage. Little is known about Roya's mother. Her father Sayeed, who is also an interpreter, has been working for the U.S. for twelve years. He wonders what will become of them when the Americans leave. Good question. Especially as the US has been particularly slow in processing visas for them to emigrate to the United States. As Roya, Melis Aker, a Turk by birth who received her training in the U.S., looks just right for the part – a little exotic. Her mannerisms are feminine in the way that Arab and Middle Eastern women express feelings with their hands.
We can accept that Roya's childhood was spent living as a boy, an Afghani custom in families with no sons that lasts until puberty. In Roya's case however, she turns her back on being an uneducated docile female beholden to men in favor of becoming the feminist leader of the underground anti-Taliban women's movement . She's tough and she's not going to give up.
Although Roya's sexuality is never totally clear, what really strains credulity beyond the usual theatrical trick of suspending disbelief is that Duke does not recognize Roya when they meet off the Base. Disguised as a man in baggy pants and shawls, her voice is much too high pitched to be anything other than female. Does Duke really think he's talking to a male Afghan merchant? That's not believable.
Rounding out the cast in this rather formulaic play are Roya's father Sayeed (a credible performance by Joseph Kamal) and Duke's mother, Desiree (Dawn Ursula). As a vice president of the World Bank, Ms. Ursula has a commanding presence but her British accent seems to wax and wane.
Lucie Tiberghien's direction is static emphasizing talk over action, expect when Elisheba Ittoop's startling sound effects kick in. Randolph-Wright repeats himself often and that makes the play drag at times. But with judicious editing and livelier direction, Love in Afghanistan, will surely be performed elsewhere. Its subject is topical and interesting.