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New play looks beyond war headlines to tell story of ‘Love in Afghanistan’

November 20, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
Making its stage debut in Washington, D.C., "Love in Afghanistan" offers a different take on how love finds a way despite clashing cultures. Jeffrey Brown talks to playwright Charles Randolph-Wright about his new work, writing about a foreign culture and his career as playwright, director and actor.
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight: a different take on clashing cultures in Afghanistan.

Playwright CHARLES RANDOLPH-WRIGHT captured that in an unusual love story that also casts light on the role of women in a war zone. “Love in Afghanistan” had its world premiere at Arena Stage in Washington recently.

Jeffrey Brown talked to the Randolph-Wright, who is also the director the hit Broadway show “Motown: The Musical.”

Here is an excerpt of that conversation.

JEFFREY BROWN: I think the first question should be, why write about Afghanistan, something we see in the news, we cover on this program?

CHARLES RANDOLPH-WRIGHT, playwright: Exactly, often, every day, actually.

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I read an article about the practice of bacha posh, which is young girls dressing up as boys to survive. And it — it stunned me, and I thought, I have to tell this story. And I couldn’t get it out of my head and just started reading everything I could. And the next thing I knew, “Love in Afghanistan,” this play, was created.

JEFFREY BROWN: And when you say reading everything, you mean suddenly everything in the news and…

CHARLES RANDOLPH-WRIGHT: Yes, because every day there — in every day, there are articles about Afghanistan.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

CHARLES RANDOLPH-WRIGHT: Everything, there’s something.

But I looked for all the things that were the other side of Afghanistan. You see the things about war. I wanted to know about the people and about lapis lazuli, just everything that I could find.

And it’s a wealth of material on the Internet about the people there. That’s what interested me.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, I was curious, because writers — the mantra is write what you know. Right? But writers often write about what they don’t know. But when you’re writing about — you haven’t been to Afghanistan, right, or in the war — when you’re writing about something that is so contemporary, that people are so sort of in your face, is it harder, or do you feel more responsibility to get it right in some way?

CHARLES RANDOLPH-WRIGHT: Yes, you do feel the responsibility to be accurate, to learn as much as you can.

So I had a lot of people who assisted me on this who were Afghan, who are from the military. But I looked at it at the perspective of the character, the hip-hop artist that goes there. I’m that person, in a way, and the audience is that person, because he’s our way in. We are the ones who know nothing about that world. Even though we have been there for so long, we don’t know those people.

JEFFREY BROWN: That was the way in, to have that character coming in?

CHARLES RANDOLPH-WRIGHT: Yes. And so he — the questions that we would ask, he asks in this piece.

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s set in war, but a lot of humor, obviously, there, and it’s a love story.

CHARLES RANDOLPH-WRIGHT: It’s a love story.

And it’s not just these two people falling in love. It’s about love of country, love of family. And that’s ultimately why I called it “Love in Afghanistan,” because it deals with different parts of that.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, I’m thinking about playwright, director, and an actor as well.

CHARLES RANDOLPH-WRIGHT: Back in the day.

JEFFREY BROWN: Back in the day.

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s an interesting and successful career you’re creating and have created. Was any of it planned?

CHARLES RANDOLPH-WRIGHT: What was planned was just to tell the truth, was to follow the stories I believed in.

And I loved working in all forms of media. People say, do you write or direct? And I say, yes. Do you work in television, film, or theater? And I say, yes, because I love each one of them. They inform each other, how they work together.

Theater is my first love, because it’s live. But I love working in all aspects of the business. And to be able to tell stories is a great gift. And I take that seriously.