The fact that playwright Charles Randolph-Wright has never set foot in Afghanistan probably shouldn’t be held against the week’s other world premiere, Arena Stage’s insipid, quasitopical romance, Love in Afghanistan. Shakespeare never visited Italy, after all, and still managed to conjure up Romeo, Caesar, a Venetian merchant, and a couple of gents from Verona persuasively enough.
Randolph-Wright, though, can’t quite figure out how to proceed once he’s brought rap star Duke (Khris Davis) and pretty Muslim translator Roya (Melis Aker) together at Bagram air base in Kabul. He’s given them matching secrets—Roya, who is studiously reserved, grew up “bacha posh,” dressing as a boy because her parents had no male children, and still sometimes dons male attire to make her way in the world; Duke, who accompanies every syllable he utters with a gesture as if he’s rapping on a concert stage, is a middle-class, well-educated kid posing as a street tough to sell records.
But that makes them canny, not self-destructive, and the playwright seems not to know that. He has them slip away unnoticed from Duke’s security detail (and indeed, the entire American military establishment) to wander incognito through Kabul, getting caught up in a suicide bombing that Duke’s presence turns into an international incident. But not one so fraught that the authorities don’t allow the couple to slip off again to recuperate in a fancy hotel in Dubai where Duke’s mom (Dawn Ursula) falls into bed with Roya’s dad (Joseph Kamal), and the production falls into sitcom territory.
Lucie Tiberghien’s handsome staging is spare and attractive, but the script, developed through Arena’s American Voices, New Play Institute, requires a few more drafts before it’ll be remotely ready for audiences.