Theatre Review by Howard Miller - July 21, 2022
The Kite Runner. Adapted by Matthew Spangler. Based on the novel by Khaled Hosseini. Directed by Giles Croft. Scenic and costume design by Barney George. Lighting design by Charles Balfour . Sound design by Drew Baumohl. Projection design by William Simpson. Composer and music supervisor Jonathan Girling. Movement director Kitty Winter. Fight director Philip D'Orléans. Cultural advisory and script consultant Humaira Ghilzai.
As a novel, The Kite Runner covers a lot of territory, ranging from its central theme of survivor's guilt, to examining the lives of refugees trying to make a home for themselves in the United States, to helping the reader gain some understanding of the socio-cultural complexities of life in war-torn Afghanistan.
The heart of the story lies with the first of these as it relates the experiences of a pair of pre-adolescent boys: Amir (Amir Arison) and Hassan (Eric Sirakian). Hassan is a servant in Amir's home, but the boys have spent their childhoods together and are as close as two peas in a pod, never mind that they come from different ethnic groups, different branches of Islam, and different social strata. None of these matter. Until they do.
After a brief introduction that takes place in San Francisco in 2001, where a resettled grown-up Amir is living, we are drawn into his memories and to Kabul in 1975. "It's wrong what they say about the past, about how you can bury it," he tells us. "Because the past claws its way out." Indeed it does, as the story of Amir and Hassan unfolds and broadens to encompass family, friends, and a threatening bully named Assef (Amir Malaklou).
Assef has a particular grudge against Hassan, an unruffled marksman with a slingshot who has appointed himself as the timid Amir's bodyguard. Predictably, there comes a time when one of the boys trips up and lands in Assef's clutches. As it happens, the victim is Hassan, while Amir is a witness, too terrified to do anything but run away. Hassan survives the attack, possibly not even knowing that Amir was nearby. But nothing will ever be the same, and Amir's sense of shame and guilt destroy the friendship and follow him into adulthood.
In general, Act I fares better than Act II. Amir's confessional storytelling, accompanied by drumming by tabla artist Salar Nader and other regional percussion instruments played by members of the ensemble, fills the bill nicely. The other cast members weave in and out of the story, providing socio-cultural context to the play. The titular event, a kite-flying competition that is very meaningful to the community and to the tale, is handled with the same genteel approach. It is as if Amir's memories have blurred or have been deliberately edited for our consumption by the storyteller himself. Even the long-sought absolution, when it does come late in the play, lacks the tension that is instilled in the novel.
Occasionally a performance will stand out, even if the characters themselves lack dimensionality. Two of these are Faran Tahir as Amir's father and Azita Ghanizada as Soraya, who becomes Amir's wife in the United States and who, though it is also underplayed, takes over the reins when Amir falters once again toward the end of the story. Eric Sirakian does fine as Hassan, but because his character is made out to be an absolute saint, his role in the story is reduced to playing out that sainthood.
There are many tender and touching moments as well as food for thought about the harm that ensues when we cling to our embedded beliefs and rituals at the cost of human kindness. That is all well and good, but a play is a play is a play, and this production of The Kite Runner amounts to a long evening of low-key narration and moments that have been culled from the novel.