Inevitably, he needed the feedback of people who knew Afghanistan, and as it happens, his old friend Landrigan, now living in Boston, had arrived in that country in 2004 and spent six years there, in various sorts of jobs. While he was in Kabul, he assisted in putting on a local production of “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” an experience that led to his co-authorship of a book, “Shakespeare in Kabul.”
“He was always interested in learning more and knowing more,” Landrigan said of Randolph-Wright, who gave him an early version of the piece and then, draft after draft of it. “I know he’s gifted but my concern was that he would write a superficial play, full of the melodrama that the situation would allow. The first draft veered in that direction.”
Subsequent drafts grew far subtler, in part because Landrigan introduced the dramatist to an Afghan woman, studying in the United States as part of a project called the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women , who had been bacha pash.
Melis Aker, the young Turkish actress and recent Tufts graduate cast as the interpreter, Roya, was dispatched by Arena to meet another Afghan woman in the IEAW program who also was at one time bacha pash. “I’ve been a tomboy but I’ve never lived as a tomboy,” Aker said, adding that she was able to ask the student “a lot of questions” about the custom. She, like Randolph-Wright, has never been to Kabul.
Randolph-Wright is eager to see how his play is received in a city that has ample reason to think about its significance. Even Napolitano’s early consult bolstered his sense of anticipation. “In her note, she writes to me, ‘This sure beats reading briefs,’ ” he said with a laugh. He takes all the encouragement he’s gotten as a sign that dreaming big reaps benefits that are big.
“It sort of validates being fearless,” he said.
“Love in Afghanistan,” by Charles Randolph-Wright. Directed by Lucie Tiberghien. Oct. 11-Nov. 17 at Arena Stage, 1101 6th St. SW. Visit www.arenastage.org or call 202-488-3300.