By Kyle Osborne
There are many positive elements swimming about in the one act play, “Love In Afghansitan,” Charles Randolph-Wright’s world premiere, currently playing at Arena Stage. What there is not, unfortunately, is a single moment where you believe that the main characters are actually in love. As missing pieces go, there isn’t a more important one.
Set at Bagram air base in Kabul, a hip-hop star on the rise has come to entertain the troops. Duke (played by Khris Davis ) is all faux swagger and hand gestures and, we are meant to believe, has instantly gotten a crush on his Afghan interpreter, Roya, a beautiful and smart woman who is both traditional and somehow wanting to break some of the norms of her repressive society (Melis Aker is utterly authentic in her role).
As they tentatively flirt, we see some intrigue between them, but it feels more like a musician putting the moves on a “backstage girl,” and not something that has any deeper motives. At the same time, Roya is somewhat clear that she knows what she wants to do with her life, and being the arm candy for a Hip-Hop star doesn’t seem like it’ll ever fit her ambitions. Although there are interesting developments, nothing makes us believe that either of these characters is going to change their core selves. So where is there to go?
There are two other characters in the play, Sayeed, Roya’s father (also a translator and played with understated grace by Joseph Kamal), and Desiree, Duke’s mother (Dawn Ursula), a World Bank higher-up with the moves and delivery of a Bond girl of a certain age. If she had begun singing “Goldfinger,” it wouldn’t have seemed strange.
The sub-plot involving some trouble that these two get into by sneaking off base feels more like a conflict-gimmick; a serious thing happens, but, apparently, not serious enough to fully flesh it out, instead it’s given a few superficial monologues.
A surprise involving the two parents is worth a chuckle and a smile, and the sparse, utilitarian set works just fine. All four characters remain onstage—sitting to the side when not in the scene. The lighting is superb, and the sound inside the Kogod Cradle is clear, all the way to the back row.
But “Love In Afghanistan” ends up being only half right. As Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway memorably asked each other in song—“Where Is The Love?”
Love in Afghanistan plays at Arena Stage’s Kogod Cradle, 1101 Sixth Street, Washington, DC, 20024, through November 17. For tickets and info, visit: http:www.arenastage.org