In miniature, two children seek safety, in ‘Flight’ at Studio Theatre

The immersive journey of two young Afghan refugees, an unforgettable tour de force.

Two orphaned brothers, Aryan and Kabir, leave their home in Afghanistan to search for safety in England. They have a small inheritance sewn into their clothes, and they have each other. Like their lives, their memory of their own culture has been atomized, blown into darkness. They face violence, police raids, economic exploitation, and brutal personal circumstances to achieve their dream.

Flight at Studio Theatre offers the opportunity to learn their fate. It is truly a tour de force — a welcome destination for those who seek out art in these uncertain times.

Athens scene from ‘Flight.’ Photo by Mihaila Bodlovic.

There are no live actors. Each audience member has a personal viewing booth with headphones. Performances are capped at 25 patrons. The story is told in 230 highly detailed, moving dioramas. This immersive experience, in an intimate setting, is based upon the novel Hinterland by former Reuters and New York Times International journalist Caroline Brothers. Although the events are fictional, they are based on Brothers’ interviews and encounters with young refugees across Europe. 

Originally commissioned by the Edinburgh International Festival, Flight has toured internationally and was named one of the most Unforgettable Theatre Moments by the New York Times in 2018. Flight is a kind of hybrid — a theatre piece as well as an installation. It was created by Scottish theater company Vox Motus, adapted by Oliver Emanuel, and directed by Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison.

“Am I an Afghan?” Kabir asks his brother. He can barely remember his native country. Aryan, 14, is determined to save his brother at all costs and is saddened when he realizes that Kabir, 8, is no longer a little boy.

They are still, however children. Kabir would like a dog and wants to be a world-famous singer and guitarist. Also a chef. Aryan has a deep love for maths, finding the figures appealingly pure and, as Caroline Brothers notes, impervious to loss.

Paris sequence from ‘Flight.’ Photo by Drew Farrell.

They have a mantra that keeps them going, composed of the names of cities: “Kabul, Tehran, Istanbul, Athens, Rome, Paris, London.” Another inspiration is Bruce Willis, an icon of American action movies.

Flight asks the same question as Ivan Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov: Can we live in a world that countenances the suffering of children? We can. We do.

Oliver Emanuel’s adaptation is interspersed with the poetry of Rumi. It is full of images of birds: pigeons, turtledoves, even a canary. In the diorama, the police appear, amusingly, as seagulls. The sound score is exceptional, full of music, the sea, rifle shots, drums, cars.

In 2017, the United Nations Children’s Fund counted 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children moving worldwide. And these are only the documented cases.

Aryan carries: a plastic wallet, a red mobile phone without SIM, and a tiny book of Afghan poetry. Kabir has nothing in his pockets except dreams.

Don’t miss their remarkable journey.

Running Time: 45 minutes, with no intermission

Flight plays through March 6, 2022, at Studio Theatre’s Stage 4, 1501 14th St NW, Washington, DC. Performances are Tuesday – Friday at 6 pm, 7:15 pm, and 8:30 pm; Saturday and Sunday at noon, 1:15 pm, 2:30 pm, 3:45 pm, 5 pm, 6:15 pm, 7:30 pm, and 8:45 pm. There will be no performances on December 24 and 25, or on January 1. Tickets start at $42, with low-cost options and discounts available, and can be purchased online or by calling (202) 332-3300.

Audience seating for ‘Flight.’

COVID Safety: Proof of vaccination (or a negative COVID test) and facemask are required. Studio Theatre’s complete Health and Safety protocols are here.

Flight does not feature live actors. This immersive production is experienced by audience members from their own personal viewing booths and with headphones. Performances are capped at 25 patrons. Cleanings will be conducted between performances.

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Sophia Howes has been a reviewer for DCMTA since 2013 and a columnist since 2015. She has an extensive background in theater. Her play Southern Girl was performed at the Public Theater-NY, and two of her plays, Rosetta’s Eyes and Solace in Gondal, were produced at the Playwrights’ Horizons Studio Theatre. She studied with Curt Dempster at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, where her play Madonna was given a staged reading at the Octoberfest. Her one-acts Better Dresses and The Endless Sky, among others, were produced as part of Director Robert Moss’s Workshop-NY. She has directed The Tempest, at the Hazel Ruby McQuain Amphitheatre, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Monongalia Arts Center, both in Morgantown, WV. She studied Classics and English at Barnard and received her BFA with honors in Drama from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where she received the Seidman Award for playwriting. Her play Adamov was produced at the Harold Clurman Theater on Theater Row-NY. She holds an MFA from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where she received the Lucille Lortel Award for playwriting. She studied with, among others, Michael Feingold, Len Jenkin, Lynne Alvarez, and Tina Howe. Her father, Carleton Jones, long-time real estate editor and features writer for the Baltimore Sun, inspired her to become a writer.

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