|THE KITE RUNNER|
With its themes of guilt, betrayal, friendship and redemption, all set against the backdrop of the changing politics of Afghanistan from the 1970s until the early 2000s, it’s not surprising that Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” became the kind of must-read novel that spent two years on the New York Times best-seller list. Now, Matthew Spangler’s stage adaptation of this beloved, often difficult tale has arrived -- after 15 years -- at Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theater in an incredibly sincere and mostly involving production.
If the show doesn’t do full justice to the book, it should be noted that nothing short of an opera or a TV miniseries could accomplish that gargantuan task. Still, some theatergoers might prefer – or be expecting – a more visually exciting presentation than the decidedly minimalist one put together by director Giles Croft (along with scenic and costume designer Barney George and projection designer William Simpson), which barely fills the Hayes’ not-so-big stage.
Further, to get the job done in 2 ½ hours, Spangler’s script relies on abundant narration from the show’s protagonist, Amir (the extremely hard-working Amir Arison). And as is so often the case, the telling is never as evocative as the showing. The script also requires the character of Amir to be onstage the entire time – and for Arison to play the character at every age from 12 to 40 (without even a costume change). It’s a practical choice, to be sure, but perhaps not the most artistically satisfying one.
Still, it’s hard not to get swept up in Hosseini’s story, which initially focuses on the surprising friendship between the upper-class Amir and the illiterate Hassan (a superb Erik Sirakian), who is essentially his servant. Intriguingly (and for reasons later explained), this unusual bond is encouraged by Amir’s often disapproving father, Baba (an imposing Faran Tahir), who is continually disappointed that the bookish Amir is more of an intellectual and less of an athlete.
Amir finally makes Baba proud when he finally wins the annual kite running contest, with Hassan’s invaluable help. But he also makes a fateful choice in the immediate aftermath of his victory – and the days after – that both irrevocably tears his bond with his friend and leads Hassan and his father Ali (a fine Evan Zes) to move away.
Ultimately, Hassan becomes little more than a memory – and an ever-present guilty secret -- after Amir moves to California, marries the beautiful Soraya (an enchanting Azita Ghanizada), loses his father to cancer, and – yes – becomes an acclaimed author.
While Amir is reasonably settled and content in his new life – although he and Soraya cannot have children – he immediately goes to Pakistan when he receives a call from old family friend Ramin Khan (the excellent Dariush Kashani) asking him to visit because, in doing so, “there’s a way you can be good again.”
The show’s last “act,” which involves Amir returning to 21st century Afghanistan to rescue an orphan, is a bit overburdened with coincidence and melodrama, playing out at times like an episode of “General Hospital.” And the larger issue of Amir coming back to a homeland he can’t recognize after more than 30 years is given shorter shrift than it deserves.
Indeed, while much of “The Kite Runner” takes flight, some of its important moments remain sadly deflated on the ground.
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Amir Arison, Faran Tahir, Mazin Akar, Barzin Akhavan, Demosthenes Chrysan, Danish Farooqui, Azita Ghanizada, Joe Joseph, Déa Julien, Dariush Kashani, Beejan Land, Amir Malaklou, Christine Mirzayan, Salar Nader, Haris Pervaiz, Alex Purcell, Eric Sirakian, Houshang Touzie, Evan Zes
Helen Hayes Theatre
240 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036