There’s an early candy and humorous scene in “The Kite Runner” that appears like a unconscious warning about how misbegotten this stage adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 best-selling novel.
The play, just like the novel, is about an immigrant Afghan-American man named Amir (Amir Arison) who tries to make amends as an grownup for his betrayal of his finest childhood good friend, Hassan (Eric Sirakian)
Within the scene, Amir eagerly describes to Hassan the first-ever brief story that he’s simply written: A person discovers a magic cup that turns his tears into pearls. Not usually inclined in direction of melancholy, the person forces himself to create conditions that make him forlorn, in order that he’ll produce tears, after which pearls; the story climaxes with the person killing his spouse.
“Do you prefer it?” Amir asks.
“Sure, I do,” the good-natured Hassan replies. “However will you allow me to ask a query?” Why does he must kill his spouse, Hassan asks, or ever really feel unhappy with the intention to shed tears? Can’t he simply use an onion?
Amir appears at Hassan, pauses, after which crumples up his story, which will get amusing.
The character Amir thus reveals extra obvious self-awareness than the artistic group behind “The Kite Runner,” or the numerous producers who thought it a good suggestion to deliver to Broadway this tear-jerking page-turner that’s so filled with eye-rolling and off-putting twists and turns.
Matthew Spangler’s stage adaptation is devoted to a fault – two faults, actually. The story hasn’t been sufficiently rethought as a piece of theater: Amir Arison performs not simply as Amir the grownup and Amir the kid, but additionally as Amir the (wordy, stilted) narrator, depriving the opposite characters of their very own breath, and rushing via so many incidents that it’s laborious for the viewers to catch ours. Spangler additionally faithfully renders facets of Hosseini’s novel that I had some qualms about once I learn it way back, which now in (the stage) mild of a brand new period have grown into full-blown objections.
Let’s begin with the connection between Amir and Hassan. They’re two motherless boys who’re rising up collectively, spending their days watching John Wayne motion pictures dubbed into Farsi and flying kites. However they aren’t equal. Hassan is the son of Ali (Evan Zes), who for forty years has been the servant of Amir’s father Baba (Faran Tahir.) Simply as Ali is Baba’s servant, so Hassan is Amir’s servant, though they’re younger boys solely a yr aside. Amir tells us that Ali and his son Hassan are Hazara, a long-persecuted ethnic group of Shi’a Muslims, whereas Baba and Amir are Pashtuns, Sunni Muslims who type the higher class of the nation. The issue for me is that Hassan may as properly be a martyred saint – abjectly loyal to Amir, successful kite tournaments for him, defending him, sacrificing and struggling for him, even whereas Amir is casually contemptuous of somebody he views as his inferior. Hassan will not be a fleshed-out character, however a tragic determine (introduced from Amir’s perspective.) The set-up jogs my memory of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” which in antebellum occasions was not only a standard leisure however a piece of political advocacy towards slavery; it now, nevertheless, is extensively considered as pernicious in its sentimental stereotyping. I don’t know whether or not the therapy of Hassan as a selfless martyr was additionally initially supposed as social advocacy, however within the Hayes Theater on 44th Avenue in 2022, it comes perilously near sufferer porn.
That impression is bolstered by the ugliness of the character Assef (Amir Malaklou in a thankless position), who we first meet as a teenage bully calling Amir and Hassan “Faggot and Fuck Face.” Assef is the unredeemable villain of “The Kite Runner.” He commits the central act of the play (which can be a spoiler for these of you who haven’t learn the 2003 novel or seen the 2007 film, however it might be deceptive to speak in regards to the play with out mentioning it.) Assef violently rapes Hassan. Amir is a witness and does nothing – which makes him really feel so responsible that he vegetation his gold watch and a few money below Hassan’s mattress, so it is going to appear like Hassan is a thief, and Baba will do away with him. To guard Amir (in line with his saintliness), Hassan falsely confesses to perpetrating the theft.
Amir carries the guilt over these compounded betrayals with him when he and Baba to migrate to America, and it prompts him to return to Afghanistan 20 years later — after he will get married and turns into a profitable author — to rescue Hassan’s son Sohrab (additionally portrayed by Sirakian.) Sohrab, because it seems, is within the clutches of – guess who? – Assef, who’s no longer only a chief of the Taliban, but additionally a pedophile.
The precise particulars chosen as an instance Assef’s villainy all the time disturbed me. It undermined what appeared initially the creator’s severe exploration of the draw back of the tradition of masculinity in Afghan society: Baba is troubled that Amir doesn’t like sports activities and needs to change into a author, positions that we’re made to grasp as unenlightened. (“Actual males don’t learn poetry, and so they definitely don’t write it! Actual males play soccer, similar to I did,” Baba says — an instance of the present’s on-the-nose clunky dialogue.) Up to now, I attempted to motive via the author’s complicated contradictory decisions: “Having the villain rape and abuse boys doesn’t essentially imply he’s homosexual, nor that the author is anti-gay; these are primarily predatory legal, not gay, acts. And what does it imply that Assef known as Amir a faggot? It may very well be, um…” However what appeared then at finest an ambiguous blended message strikes me now, given all that’s occurred not too long ago – the elevated concentrating on of LGBT folks by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and likewise by the Republicans in the USA — as outright homophobia, and its inclusion within the stage model worse than regrettable.
I really feel considerably equally about what at first look may appear to be the most effective issues in regards to the play — its use of Afghan historical past and tradition. They’ve even employed a “cultural adviser and script marketing consultant,” Humaira Ghilzai, “to make sure authenticity in all facets of the manufacturing.” There are a couple of traces in regards to the political adjustments and challenges within the nation as we comply with Amir’s saga over roughly 1 / 4 of a century beginning in round 1975; we hear of the top of Afghanistan’s monarchy, the Soviet invasion, after which the Taliban regime. However these begin to really feel virtually insulting of their superficiality, in service to a narrative that at its finest has the tone of a people story, however detours with some frequency into pulpy melodrama. The story permits little room for, nor reveals a lot curiosity in, the complexity of the nation’s historical past. (Right here is PBS’s A Historic Timeline of Afghanistan, from 1921 to 2021.)
“The Kite Runner” was a novelty when it was revealed not lengthy after 9/11, by a author who grew up in Afghanistan no much less. However the theatrical panorama in New York will not be the identical because the literary one in America 20 years in the past, as I detailed in my evaluate final yr of “Promoting Kabul,” a play by Sylvia Khoury that takes place in Afghanistan and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. A marathon theatrical occasion in 2010 entitled “The Nice Sport: Afghanistan,” a full day of brief new performs by varied established playwrights (19 works in all!), dramatized the historical past of the nation and its relationship with international powers from 1842 to 2010 — and demonstrated how It’s doable for theater about Afghanistan to be dramatic, factual and illuminating. J.T. Rogers’ play “Blood and Presents” debuted the next yr. Then “The Boy Who Danced on Air” in 2017 demonstrated the way it’s additionally doable for theater about Afghanistan to be overly dramatic, dubiously factual, and unilluminating. (It’s value noting that this musical was about an unlawful revival of an historic custom known as Bacha Bazi, actually “boy play,” through which wealthy folks purchase boys to be intercourse slaves and prepare them to be dancers — which is clearly what’s occurring with Assef; we see him making Sohrab dance.) In October of final yr, LA Writers Heart put collectively “The Voices of Afghanistan,”a videotaped “verbatim theater piece” based mostly on interviews with Afghan and Afghan-Americans, that’s obtainable on HowlRound.
Underneath Giles Croft’s course, “The Kite Runner” is professionally acted by an interesting solid of 12, all however two of whom are making their Broadway debuts. The design is environment friendly, as if geared for touring — projections of childlike drawings of metropolis skylines in Kabul and San Francisco; Asian carpets, an intricately embellished curtain that appeared to be within the form of a kite. A spotlight of the manufacturing is the music; Salar Nader sits on stage all through all two and a half hours, enjoying the tabla, the normal twin hand drums of Hindustani classical music. Wouldn’t it have been higher to have employed all this expertise for an authentic work of theater that had one thing new and nuanced to say?
The Kite Runner
Hayes Theater via October 30, 2022
Operating time: Two and a half hours together with intermission
Tailored by Matthew Spangler; Based mostly on the Novel by Khaled Hosseini;
Directed by Giles Croft;
Composer and musical supervisor: Jonathan Girling
Scenic and costume design by Barney George, Lighting Design by Charles Balfour; Sound Design by Drew Baumohl; Projection Design by William Simpson
Forged: Amir Arison as Amir, Faran Tahir as Baba, Eric Sirakian as Hassan and Sohrab, Mazin Akar, Barzin Akhavan, Demosthenes Chrysan, Azita Ghanizada, Danish Farooqui, Joe Joseph, Déa Julien, Dariush Kashani, Beejan Land, Amir Malaklou, Christine Mirzayan, Haris Pervaiz, Alex Purcell, Houshang Touzie, and Evan Zes. Salar Nader performs the tabla, a percussion instrument.