(Right)The Lion of Kabul by Colin Teevan (l to r) Daniel Rabin, Danny Rahim, Raad Rawi, Vincent Ebrahim and Nabil Elouhab. (Left)Bugles at the Gates of Jalalabad by Stephen Jeffreys (l to r) Rick Warden, Karl Davies, Nabil Elouahabi and Daniel Betts star in The Great Game: Afghanistan, an epic production from London receiving its West Coast premiere at Berkeley Rep.Photographer:John Haynes

THE GREAT GAME: AFGHANISTAN. Dramatic history in three parts by multiple authors. Directed by Nicolas Kent and Indhu Rubasingham. Berkeley Repertory's Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. 510. 647.2949 or www.berkeleyrep.org. October 22 – November 7, 2010.


One year ago A.C.T. imported intact, direct from London the brilliant Kneehigh Theatre production of Brief Encounter adapted and directed by Emma Rice. It was the highlight of 2009 Season. This time around Berkeley Rep has imported the Tricycle Theatre’s production of The Great Game: Afghanistan directed by Nicolas Kent and Indhu Rubasingham. It is an ambitious project that puts together a cycle of short scripts and monologs by 12 playwrights exploring the enigma that is Afghanistan.

It is prophetic when a recent editorial in the SF Chronicle headlines Double Game in Afghanistan, going on to say, “American commanders acknowledged giving Taliban rebels safe passage across firing lines. . . It’s strategy driven by the fact that a weak government in Kabul can’t win the war . . . brought fresh evidence of how unreliable Afghan leaders are. President Hamid Karzai has put himself out to bid.” So what else is new? Nothing. These facts are dramatically brought to life on the Berkeley Rep Roda Stage in the dynamic, eye-opening, instructional and sometimes frustrating three-cycle play The Great Game: Afghanistan.

The authors are a mixture of noted English and American writers each contributing variations on historical and fanciful events creating a three-part production that can be seen consecutively, as we did on opening day and night, or individually.

Part one is labeled Invasions & Independence (1842–1929) is an eye-opening history lesson that begins as a local artist runs afoul of the Taliban for creating a mural depicting woman. Thus, we know that not much has changed since the 1800s. Bugles at the Gate of Jalalabad by Stephen Jeffreys explores the defeat of the British in Jalababd that was part of their Colonial Empire. Four surviving British soldiers ask the question that recurs throughout all three plays: “Why are we here?” It is an auspicious start of the cycle and the acting is superb.

In Part Two: Communism, the Mujahideen and the Taliban (1980–1996), Durand’s Line by Ron Hutchinson is one of the best written short plays with intriguing dialog between a British Diplomat Durand who officiously informs the Afghan Amir, that with a simple line that he draws on a map represents a “unified” country disregarding the myriad lawless tribal factions.

One the most brilliant short play, Black Tulips, is an ingenious look at the Russian involvement in the area written by David Edgar who wrote the award winning look into American politics in Continental Divide. The scene is a briefing room for new Russian recruits who are assigned to “patrol” Afghanistan. It begins with the 1987 briefing going back in time to 1985, 1984, 1982 and 1981. The similarity, optimism, and failure are the same in all the years. It is a perfect reflection of our American incursion.

This is a sample of the configuration of the cycle ending with the least satisfying Part Three: Enduring Freedom (1996–2009). All three parts are often non-linear, although cogent, do not always interlock, and in the end, the jig saw puzzle is incomplete. Each section of the cycle has brilliant moments and theatrical disappointments but always thought provoking, beautifully staged with flashes of great acting and directing. All three deserve to be seen but if a choice has to be made, I would suggest Part Two first and Part One second.

Running times: Part One—2 hours and 5 minutes; Part Two—2 hours and 30 minutes; Part Three—2 hours and 30 minutes (all parts include one 15 minute intermission).

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com