The Real World: Kabul tells the story of three American writers in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul rushing to get a soap opera script written for Afghani television under a very tight deadline. Unfortunately, that’s all it does—and that’s disappointing, because it could have been so much more.
The premise of the play seems to promise both comedic and dramatic social commentary about cultural conflicts between the American writers and their Afghani hosts, or about the ongoing social impacts of American military involvement. But the script falls down on the job: it chooses instead to focus the bulk of its 90-minute runtime on the interpersonal dynamics of the three writers, while underserving the development of the native Afghani characters and leaving them to do little but impose artificial obstacles on our American protagonists.
Let’s take the character of Mehri Rafaat (Nina Marti), the assistant to the station owner Mr. Abdul (Omar Rocha) and the person responsible for interfacing with the American writers. She’s an ambitious, educated, cosmopolitan young Afghani woman who clearly chafes under her seemingly chauvinist boss and is conflicted between her pro-Western sentiments and the pride she feels for her native culture.
There’s opportunity for exploration, development, and mutual growth, but her interactions with the writers rarely develop beyond enforcing the writers’ deadline and being a general killjoy by nitpicking them for technical violations of their contracts. And the one key scene of cultural conflict in the entire play is handled clumsily and doesn’t advance the overall plot. These characters are all interesting, and their interaction full of potential—but the audience rarely gets to enjoy the opportunity to see them grow, change, develop or learn from each other, as opposed to simply being the same static archetypes at the end that they were at the beginning.
And now a word about the plot: It’s difficult to write a 90-minute one-act play about three writers rushing to finish a pilot script, and in this case, it shows. What dramatic tension could exist from such a scenario is limited because the consequences of failure are not really explained—who among us, after all, has not missed a work deadline for something?
In addition, the revelations we get about the writers over the course of the play aren’t even relevant to the plot and are easily forgotten, except when they are intentionally brought up just to remind the audience that they happened. Perhaps most problematic, the audience does not get treated to the expected denouement and resolution that would be expected after the conclusion of the key plot element. Instead, we’re treated to something that feels like a sitcom that runs one season too long. The conclusion is lingering, uncomfortable and episodic before crashing to a conclusion that could be generously described as abrupt and withholds any information about the fates of two of the five characters in the play.
It’s unfortunate because the systemic issues of the script overshadow some truly enjoyable things about the performance—especially the acting. Bryan Norrington is charismatic with a strong presence throughout, and is consistently enjoyable as the self-confident, physically narcissistic head writer Colt. Norrington excels at the one note his character allows him to hit, and leaves us wishing that Colt had a bigger range of emotions so we could see Norrington perform them.
The Real World: Kabul
Written by Emily Liner
Details and tickets
Mo O’Rourke gives life to Kat Hamilton, the second in our trio of writers. Hamilton’s character is more sardonic and reserved, with a few secrets of her own that are revealed through the course of the show. O’Rourke is a pleasure to watch on stage, and she has a particular gift for timing and physical comedy. If she develops a stand-up routine or a one-woman show, my advice would be to reserve tickets. In playing our third writer Maya, Simone Lewis has a more emotionally diverse role as her character transitions from a more awkward and frumpy young woman with family hangups to a more confident and liberated persona, and handles that gradual transition very smoothly.
The repartee among these three definitely has its laughs, charisma and bright spots, and the production elements leave little room for complaint. But they can’t quite rescue a script that’s both underdeveloped and overextended, and simply too small for its premise. At the end of the day, Real World: Kabul leaves the audience feeling incomplete.
The Real World: Kabul by Emily Liner . Director: Sarah Scafidi . CAST: Simone Lewis as Maya Anderson, Nina Marti as Mehri Rafaat, Bryan Norrington as Colt Landry, Mo O’Rourke as Kat Hamilton .
Omar Rocha as Mr. Abdul/Bodyguard . Sound: Austin Byrd . Lighting: Paul Callahan .
Stage Manager: Michelle Diggles . Produced by Cultural Exports . Reviewed by Dante Atkins.