LIFE IN AFGHANISTAN THROUGH THE EYES OF A “PEPSI BOTTLE BOY” IS TENDER AND MOVING.
THE WORLD PREMIERE OF ‘THE MOST DANGEROUS HIGHWAY IN THE WORLD’ OPENS THE 20TH SEASON OF GOLDEN THREAD PRODUCTIONS
Golden Thread Productions is the first theatre company in America devoted to producing theatre that focuses on the Middle East, and its longevity and growth can be seen in its triumphant 20th Anniversary. This success can be attributed in large part to Torange Yeghiazarian, a Bay Area theatre veteran and the Founding Artistic Director of Golden Thread. “While our highest priority is to support the voices and careers of artists of Middle Eastern heritage, we are also committed to building a network of like-minded allies. Allies of many different cultures and backgrounds who hold the same values and share our vision of a world where we are not defined by political separations, but by our shared humanity”, says Yeghiazarian.
The Most Dangerous Highway In The World, is now on stage at the Thick House in San Francisco through May 29th. Author, Kevin Artigue is the first writer of non-Middle Eastern descent to receive a full-length production at Golden Thread. The Most Dangerous Highway In The World is the latest of many world premieres from Golden Thread Productions, directed by the Director of Marketing and New Plays, Evren Odcikin, a frequent and refreshing contributor to the SF theatre community. His direction here is clear and absorbing as he attempts to resolve some of the difficulties inherent in the script.
The play offers a window into the deeply engrossing world of the “Pepsi bottle boys,” young children and adolescents who direct traffic along the highway between Jalalabad and Kabul. The story takes place on a very specific part of the highway called the Mahi Par Pass, known for its stark beauty and deep rocky ravines. In exchange for the occasional coin or bill thrown from the passing trucks. It’s a little-discussed artifact of the war-time economy of Afghanistan, and its entanglement with the NATO/American military presence.
The central figure is a young boy who has named himself “Traffic” and is played by the lively and charismatic pre teen Kiran Patel, who remains on stage for almost the entire 80-minute production and displays a remarkable presence of mind and connection with his role. Traffic is unique because he is alone, most Pepsi-bottle boys go home at night to their families in nearby villages, but he sleeps in a seat taken from one of the many car crashes along the highway.
He is visited by two ghosts with some form of amnesia that causes them to be very repetitive, played by Golden Thread veterans Terry Lamb and Sofia Ahmad, who aren’t given much to work with in their role as ghosts with repetitive manifestations. Also in the cast is Jiya Khanna, who plays Traffic’s younger missing sister, “Am I a body or am I a soul?” says the little sister. Odcikin is clever with the small black box space at the Thick Stage, some of his characters enter from the wings and audience.
Traffic’s other visitors are two soldiers in the Afghan army, Nader and Daoud, played by Davern Wright and by local favorite Louel Senores respectively. Wright and Senores have a clear good-cop-bad-cop dynamic, with Wright playing the harsh realist who calls the shots, and Senores the more taciturn stoner. All of the action of the play takes place either at Traffic’s place of work on a bend of the highway, or at his makeshift car-seat shelter, both evocatively designed by Kate Boyd. She is one member of the strong design team, which includes Courtney Flores’ detailed costumes, and Cassie Barnes’ clear and elegant lighting design. James Ard sound design is an important texture to the feel of the story with the live highway sounds, and traditional music used to move the story. Kenan Arun deserves a mention for the shocking makeup design that makes the danger of the highway feel very real.
Writer Artigue has chosen an engrossing setting and subject matter, but his dialogue can be unconvincing, and the structure of the play feels incomplete even though the feeling for hope is clear. Young Patels performance is a highlight of the one act, it is very impressive and he carries the play with his touching performance. But the only change that can be seen in the life of the young Traffic, is a closer relationship with the ghosts that haunt the highway, a fantastical element that feels unnecessary given the intrinsic draw of the reality of the boys everyday life. The sold out opening night crowd was moved by the haunting ending. The Golden Thread Productions continues to bring us wonderful new stories and push theatre in a more diverse and inclusive direction.
Along with The Most Dangerous Highway in the World, the season includes the West Coast premiere of Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love and Combat by award–winning playwright Yussef El Guindi, the most produced writer in Golden Thread history directed by Founding Artistic Director Torange Yeghiazarian, later this fall, and the New Threads staged reading series returning in June and July of 2016 to the Brava Theater Center.
Golden Thread Productions presents
The World Premiere of
The Most Dangerous Highway in the World
by Kevin Artigue, directed by Evren Odcikin
A heart-warming tale of resilience inspired by the real-life “Pepsi-bottle boys” of Afghanistan
Through May 29, 2016
Thursdays – Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 3pm
No performance on Sunday, May 15
80 minutes no intermission
Thick House 1695 18th Street, San Francisco
Tickets $10-$34 | goldenthread.org
Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/goldenthread/?fref=ts
Photos by David Allen Studio