Golden Thread Productions’ world premiere of New York playwright Kevin Artigue’s “The Most Dangerous Highway in the World” — the story of one intrepid little boy who directs traffic and sells rotten fish on a dangerous stretch of highway between Jalalabad and Kabul –is particularly touching.
Artigue is the first playwright of non-Middle Eastern descent to have a full-length play staged by 20-year-old, San Francisco-based Golden Thread, first theater company in the U.S. devoted to the Middle East (which remains perfectly positioned to tell stories needed today more than ever).
“Traffic,” as the kid calls himself, is a so-called Pepsi bottle boy; in 2012 the New York Times reported that such boys (and men) actually do monitor this Afghanistan mountain pass by waving flattened plastic Pepsi bottles to help prevent car crashes, in exchange for coins.
Artigue seized upon the idea and created a drama, developed over the course of three years, that is by turns poignant, poetic and chilling.
The kid (played by Kiran Patel, an actual kid), an implacable, tough little orphan, is not just trying to make a living; he’s also on the lookout for his little sister (Jiya Khanna), who disappeared while heading down an especially dangerous path.
He witnesses deadly car crashes — those he’s unable to prevent — every day, but isn’t as inured to the sights as he wants to believe he is.
On this particular set of days, he’s visited at his lonely outpost by two soldiers on the lookout for Taliban (Louel Señores and Davern Wright). One’s a cheerful stoner, the other more threatening.
He’s also haunted by a few ghosts of car crash victims (Sofia Ahmad and an especially compelling Terry Lamb as an old man), who themselves are haunted by fading memories of their past.
“What is this place?” wonders the old man. “Is it hell or somewhere in between?” It’s a question that’s threaded throughout the play.
“Am I a body or am I a soul?” wonders the pigtailed little sister.
Despite an uneven cast, the play — on Kate Boyd’s simple but effective set, framed by two imposing, rocky cliffs — is sensitively directed by Evren Odcikin and is a strong addition to Golden Thread’s repertory of new work about the Middle East.
The Most Dangerous Highway in the World
Presented by Golden Thread Productions
Where: Thick House, 1695 18th St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, plus 3 p.m. May 29; closes May 29
Tickets: $10 to $34