Kabulitis at Polarity Ensemble Theatre | Theater review
Keith Anwar’s fluid tale of a woman haunted by memories of Afghanistan gets a murky production.
In 1940s Afghanistan, Keith Anwar’s Afghan father and expat American mother quietly struggled for rights, such as a more liberal dress code for women, before deciding they could no longer live in that country. Sixty years later, Anwar used their story as material for a play. Kabulitis tracks a Brooklyn man’s attempts to institutionalize his mother, Mildred, whose Alzheimer’s plagues her with painful memories of Afghanistan—memories that come to life and speak to her from her basement. Anwar’s work (which won Polarity’s Dionysos Cup contest in 2010) has fascinating moments, but a good deal of narrative shortcomings remain. The kidnapping of a young girl in Mildred’s care, for example, springs from seemingly nowhere, while Mildred’s escape from Afghanistan unfolds at a molasses pace.
The past and present weave together fluidly in Anwar’s script, a narrative device that director Lavina Jadhwani handles poorly. Transitions range from clunky to baffling (a gratuitous postblackout suicide sound cue), and conventions fade in and out at random (like how parts of the set are established as realms of the past and others as dominions of the present). The characters of Da’Ud and Mullah (thugs from Mildred’s time in Afghanistan) aren’t merely memories, but malevolent spirits who taunt Mildred about her present-day decisions. The device befuddles at first, since most of Mildred’s ghosts stay rooted in the past. But the choice to play these characters in broad comedic strokes is even more perplexing, as it renders Mildred’s demons about as disturbing as Pixar characters.