By: Paulanne Simmons
July 31, 2022: Turning a much beloved novel into a stage play is always tricky business. It’s especially difficult when that novel spans several decades and two continents. So adapter Matthew Spangler and director Giles Croft should be given special credit for The Kite Runner, which opened at the Helen Hayes Theater on July 21.
Clearly, Spangler was determined to include as much of the Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel as possible in his staged version. To do this he makes use of a narrator who tells the story as a flashback/memory and fills in the necessary information between scenes, using much of the poetic language of the novel.
The narrator is also the principal character, Amir, a privileged Pashtun Afghan, whose life changed twelve years before the play begins, when he betrayed his servant and best friend, Hassan, by not saving him from an unspeakable attack by the town bully, Assef (Amir Malaklou). And Amir Arison, who plays the role does yeoman’s work, if only because he is onstage for the entirety of the show.
If Arison does not always make the transitions smoothly, he certainly does a creditable job. He is backed by an excellent cast, but the real standout is Hassan Eric Sirakian, who plays the devoted Hassan, a member of the oppressed Hazara, and thus inherently not Amir’s equal. In fact, even though this is clearly Amir’s story, in this tale of love, betrayal and redemption, Hassan is the true emotional center.
The Kiter Runner follows Amir’s life from his well-heeled boyhood in Kabul to his exile in America with his father, Baba (Faran Tahir), his marriage to Soraya (Azita Ghanizada) and finally his return to Afghanistan, where he needs to take care of unfinished business and assuage his guilt. Without revealing too much of the plot, this involves the fate of Hassan’s orphaned son, Sohrab (also Sirakian).
The play is enriched by music, dance and many details of Amir’s life in Afghanistan as well as the United States. The central metaphor of kites (Amir and Hassan compete in traditional and cut-throat kite races) is echoed in the kites that fly through the air, waving from poles carried by the actors. And Barney George’s set design relies effectively on William Simpson’s projections of Kabul, kites and the West Coast.
But The Kite Runner is a long play, clocking in at two and a half hours. It might have been helped with careful cutting. The question is what to leave out.
The Kite Runner runs through October 30 at the Helen Hayes Theater, 240 W 44th St. Mon 7pm; Wed 2pm & 8pm; Thu 7pm; Fri 8pm; Sat 2pm & 8pm; Sun 3pm. Running time: two hours and 30 mins. including intermission. $69—$199. www.telecharge.com. Photography: Joan Marcus