curtain call

In Broadway’s ‘The Kite Runner,’ redemption drifts in the wind


The Kite Runner Broadway
Amir Arison, left, and Eric Sirakian in The Kite Runner. Photo by Joan Marcus

Welcome to Curtain Call, our mostly queer take on the latest openings on Broadway and beyond.

The Rundown:

When The Kite Runner was originally published in 2003, the U.S. was still in the early stages of the war in Afghanistan. Our collective consciousness hovered over the trauma of 9/11 and fear of the extremist Taliban. As a result, we had little understanding of Afghanistan’s internal conflicts, including the prejudices facing the Hazaras, an ethnic group long persecuted and intertwined with the fallout from the Soviet-Afghan war.

Novelist Khaled Hosseini found humanity in the sprawling, complex narrative through the friendship of two boys whose fates would be undermined by circumstances beyond their control and decisions that would haunt them decades after.

The Kite Runner spent two years on the New York Times best-seller list, and in 2009 playwright Matthew Spangler adapted it for the stage. The Broadway production revisits Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company and Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse’s 2013 production, originally directed by Giles Croft.

Related: This legendary Sondheim musical finally makes it to San Francisco 51 years after its Broadway debut

No Tea, No Shade:

Leaving the Hayes Theater after the two-hour and 30-minute production, I felt agitated. The story of Amir (Amir Arison) and Hassan’s (Eric Sirakian) boyhood friendship despite their class divide (Hassan and his father work as family servants), the horrific event perpetrated by neighborhood bully Asef (Amir Malaklou), and the generational trauma that ensues, eventually turns into a story of redemption. But Amir’s journey to that resolution is one of deceit and abandonment until the play’s final moments.

The purported reconciliation between Amir and his father Baba (Faran Tahir), decades after the pair barely escaped their homeland in the empty tank of a fuel truck, also feels truncated, spurred by Baba’s cancer diagnosis.

Spangler extracts all of the major plot points from Hosseini’s source material, framed by Amir’s narration as an adult reflecting upon both the joys of friendship and tragedies of a childhood fueled by war. As the boys’ paths diverge, we learn through Amir of Hassan’s survival, his true identity, and the son he leaves behind.

The Kite Runner Broadway
The Kite Runner on Broadway. Photo by Joan Marcus

Arison, who’s appeared for nine seasons on NBC’s “The Blacklist,” leans into movement director Kitty Winter’s stylized pedestrian choreography, with a shape-shifting ensemble breathing life into the world of the play. But like the shepherd in Aesop’s The Boy Who Cried Wolf, he wrenches to reach the emotional heights required of the text. Crocodile tears have diluted the audience’s emotional capacity by the time the real ones flow.

Barney George’s scenic and costume design, though simple, serve the story, enhanced by William Simpson’s projection designs. Tabla artist Salar Nader, along with the ensemble’s use of singing bowls and percussive schwirrbogen, creates blankets of sound to envelop the action.

But it’s Sirakian’s performance as young Hassan and Sohrab (Hassan’s son) in Act II that emotionally tethers The Kite Runner to the audience. Sirakian, making his Broadway debut, exudes wide-eyed innocence and an uncompromising fortitude as Hassan — without question — defends his best friend and later his family.

Let’s Have a Moment:

Amir remembers Baba’s wisdom: “There is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft.” The boy uses that ploy to frame Hassan, planting a gold watch and cash under his bed. Amir, wracked with guilt and otherwise immobilized from secretly witnessing the affront on Hassan, manipulates the moment to have the boy and his father dismissed, but it backfires.

The Kite Runner Broadway
Faran Tahir, left, and Amir Arison in The Kite Runner. Photo by Joan Marcus

Baba inexplicably forgives Hassan, and at that moment, Amir realizes what he’s done and the friend he betrayed:

“If he’d said, ‘No’, he didn’t steal the watch or the cash, Baba would’ve believed him because Hassan never lied. Then I’d be revealed for what I really was and Baba would never forgive me. And that led to another understanding. Hassan knew… He knew I had betrayed him, and yet, he was rescuing me once again.”

The Last Word:

The following morning, it struck me like a cut kite plummeting to the ground. My agitation was recognition. I had seen myself in Amir, the man-boy who always seemed to be running away.

Amir Arison
Amir Arison in The Kite Runner. Photo by Joan Marcus

Though The Kite Runner is not a queer play in the sense that its protagonist or themes are gay, it sparked something in my own identity — character traits I’ve carried with me over the years as a result of being othered and bullied. I’ve run away from relationships I’ve felt ill-equipped to handle or conflicts too weak to defend myself.

We’ve become accustomed to standing in judgment of other people’s actions, myself included. Yet, as I ponder what I consider an essentially unlikeable character, I can also choose to hold space from a place of compassion. Perhaps some of these nuances are lost in translation from page to stage.

The Kite Runner plays through October 30, 2022.