Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Kite Runner
National Tour
Review by Gil Benbrook

Photo courtesy of The Kite Runner
In 2009, San Jose Repertory Theatre and Arizona Theatre Company were the first two theatre companies to present the stage adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's bestselling 2003 novel The Kite Runner. In the past 15 years, the play has been produced in the United Kingdom and also had a short run on Broadway in 2022. After previewing in San Jose last week, the national tour has its official opening in the Phoenix area this week at ASU Gammage in Tempe. It's fitting that the first two stops on the current national tour were in the first two cities to presented the original production 15 years ago. The national tour features powerful performances and poignant storytelling of this timeless tale of friendship.

Set against the backdrop of Afghanistan's tumultuous history, the play follows the journey of Amir, a privileged Pashtun boy, and his loyal friend Hassan, the son of his father's servant. Taking place across a period of over 25 years, Amir narrates the pivotal events in his life and we watch as he navigates his way through friendship, betrayal, and redemption amidst the chaos of war-torn Kabul.

Matthew Spangler's adaptation does a fairly good job of hitting all of the major plot points in Hosseini's novel, although some supporting characters and scenes have been eliminated. Having Amir serve as the narrator of the play allows us to better understand what he is feeling and thinking, similar to how a novel adds those explanatory sentences to specify a character's thoughts. The narration also gives a sense of theatricality to the story and since Amir is a writer, it also ties into the storytelling nature of the character. While some of the dramatic moments toward the second half of the book feel rushed and condensed in this adaptation, especially a scene of violence between Amir and a character in his past that is more drawn out in the book, the stage version still manages to hit the same feelings and emotions I felt reading the book 20 years ago.

One of the story's most striking aspects, and perhaps why Hosseini's novel was on the New York Times bestseller list for over two years, is its exploration of timeless themes such as friendship, loyalty, and forgiveness in the face of adversity. Through Amir and Hassan's intertwined destinies, the play offers a poignant depiction of the power of loyalty and sacrifice as well as how a difficult decision can result in endless guilt, shame and suffering. As the plot unfolds, the audience is reminded of what unites us as human beings and, while the characters and events are almost all set around the world in Afghanistan, the themes and characters transcend cultural and geographical boundaries.

Director Giles Croft has a clear understanding of the source material, ensuring that every portrayal is imbued with emotional resonance and dramatic tension and that all members of the ensemble cast bring depth and truth to their respective roles. The pacing is brisk yet also deliberately slow at points, allowing the plot to unfold organically while maintaining a sense of urgency that keeps the audience always invested in the story.

Ramzi Khalaf is exceptional as Amir. With nuance and emotional depth, Khalaf captures the complex layers of Amir's character, from his youthful innocence to his deep-seated guilt and eventual quest for redemption. Khalaf is on stage for the entire show and he has to portray Amir as both a young boy and a grown man, often quickly transitioning before our eyes between the different ages. Khalaf's childlike mannerisms and vocal inflections instantly define the age of the younger Amir, and his chemistry with Shahzeb Zahid Hussain, who brings warmth and humanity to the role of Hassan, is profound. Their emotionally rich portrayals lend authenticity to the lifelong friendships of these two young boys and the heartbreaking betrayals that threaten to tear them apart.

The supporting performances are equally impressive. Haythem Noor is superb as Baba, Amir's stern yet compassionate father whose struggles with the ghosts in his own past and his high expectations for his son add depth and complexity to the story. As Soraya, the woman Amir meets later in his life, Awesta Zarif is appropriately guarded yet also assured of herself in a warm and refined performance. James Rana and Hassan Nazari-Robati beautifully portray two very different but loving fathers as Soraya's father General Taheri and Hassan's father Ali, respectively. Wiley Naman Strasser delivers a compelling performance as Assef, the menacing antagonist whose presence looms large over the lives of Amir and Hassan. Jonathan Shaboo is impressive as several characters, including Rahim Khan, the close friend of Amir's father who makes an important call to Amir that sets the plot in motion.

The production elements transport the audience to Amir's world, beautifully realized through simple but effective scenic and costume designs from Barney George and lovely projections by William Simpson, in addition to Charles Balfour's atmospheric lighting, capturing the haunting beauty and the danger of Afghanistan in the late 20th and early 21st century. The production uses traditional Afghan music, played on stage by Salar Nader, along with original music by Jonathan Girling to immerse us into the rich cultural landscape of the story.

Like the bestselling novel it's based on, the touring production of The Kite Runner leaves a lasting impact. With its compelling storytelling, emotionally poignant performances, and rich cultural elements, the national tour production serves as a powerful testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the transformative power of forgiveness.

The Kite Runner runs through April 14, 2024, at ASU Gammage, 1200 S. Forest Avenue, Tempe AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 480-965-3434. For information on the tour, visit

Adapted by Matthew Spangler
Based on the novel by Khaled Hosseini
Directed by Giles Croft
Originally produced by Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse
Composer and Musical Supervisor: Jonathan Girling br> Scenic and Costume Design: Barney George
Lighting Design: Charles Balfour
Sound Design: Drew Baumohl
Projection Design: William Simpson
Fight Director: Philip D'Orléans
Casting Director: Laura Stanczyk
Cultural Advisor and Script Consultant: Humaira Ghilzai
Associate director: Damian Sandys

Cast: (in order of appearance)
Tabla Artist: Salar Nader
Amir: Ramzi Khalaf
Rahim Khan/Dr. Schenider/Omar Faisal: Jonathan Shaboo
Hassan/Sohrab: Shahzeb Zahid Hussain
Ali/Farid: Hassan Nazari-Robati
Baba: Haythem Noor
Assef: Wiley Naman Strasser
Wali/Doctor: Danish Farooqui
Kamal/Zaman: Jade Ziane
Ensemble/Pomegranate Lady/ Andrews: Sophie Zmorrod Ensemble/Merchant/ Russian Soldier: Kevin Stevens
General Taheri: James Rana
Soraya: Awesta Zarif
Understudy: Raji Ahsan
Understudy: Fawad Siddiqui