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Broadway Reviews

The Kite Runner

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.
Cast: Salar Nader, Amir Arison, Dariush Kashani, Eric Sirakian, Evan Zes, Faran Tahir, Amir Malaklou, Danish Farooqi, Beejan Land, Christine Mirzayan, Joe Joseph, Houshang Touzie, and Azita Ghanizada.
Theater:Helen Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th Street (Between Broadway and 8th Avenue)

Amir Arison and Eric Sirakian
Photo by Joan Marcus
Deconstructing a novel and reassembling it into a stage play is quite a challenge, laden with pitfalls and traps all along the way. When everything falls into place, you wind up with terrific plays like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Simon Stephens's adaptation of Mark Haddon's novel of the same title, or Aaron Sorkin's adaptation of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. Both work effectively in either format because the novelists were able to create compelling characters and situations, and the playwrights were able to reshape the works into something different, to be performed for an audience who may or may not be familiar with the source material. Now we've got The Kite Runner, adapted by Matthew Spangler from Khaled Hosseini bestselling novel about one man's search for redemption, opening tonight at the Helen Hayes Theatre in a compassionate if far too literary and literal transformation from novel to play.

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.

Azita Ghanizada and Amir Arison
Photo by Joan Marcus
As structured by the playwright and staged by director Giles Croft, The Kite Runner is largely a first-person narrative. Amir Arison as our guide in the central role of Amir remains onstage the entire time. Up to a point, this format works well enough. Arison holds our attention, and even manages to get us to believe in those scenes in which he is a 12-year-old boy. Barney George's simple set design and William Simpson's projections of soft colors and atmospheric haze fit in well with the overall style.

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.