Nitya Vidyasagar and Rishan Dhamija star in the Ensemble Theatre Company production of SELLING KABUL by Sylvia Khoury, directed by Nike Doukas and now playing at the New Vic Theatre in Santa Barbara. | Credit: Zach Mendez

In Selling Kabul, written by Sylvia Khoury and directed at Ensemble Theatre Company by Nike Doukas, Taroon (Rishan Dhamija), a young Afghani man in Kabul, hides from the Taliban. He cooperated with the Americans as a translator, but the U.S. pulled out of Afghanistan and the Taliban is punishing those who aided the encroaching soldiers from the western world. Taroon has been sequestered in his sister Afiya’s home for several months when the birth of his first son in the nearby hospital threatens to end his resolve to stay hidden. This thriller explores the limits of loyalty and a suffering family’s will for survival in the face of a brutal regime.

Selling Kabul’s characters are relatable and authentic, even in the most dire of circumstances. Afiya (Nitya Vidyasagar), who generates much of the play’s emotional action, is onstage in a fluctuating state of despair for nearly the entire length of the play — an impressive performance. Certain small details of the production, however, collapse what should be constantly building tension. For instance: I sense from cues in the script that Afiya and her husband, Jawid (Beejan Land), are living impoverished in a war-torn city — yet their apartment and lifestyle seem surprisingly middle-class, which deflates the tension of characters ostensibly struggling to survive. In this vein, the television — the play’s symbol of how characters have sold out their loyalty to their country for safety and creature comforts — is not as prominent as I would expect from a situation that calls for the contrast of a conspicuous TV in a humble home.

There are numerous details and plot points that swirl through the narrative as Afiya and Jawid try to smuggle Taroon out of the country, so pay close attention through the constant repartee that buries some information. Selling Kabul is a complex (and complicated) dramatization of contemporary subject matter that gives audiences access to thought-provoking stories of other cultures.

Selling Kabul is at the New Vic Theatre (33 W. Victoria St.) through February 19. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

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