Theater Review: THE KITE RUNNER (National Tour)

Post image for Theater Review: THE KITE RUNNER (National Tour)

by Emma S. Rund on June 13, 2024

in Theater-Chicago,Tours


Directed by Giles Croft, the touring production of The Kite Runner at CIBC Theatre is an intensely human piece of theatre perhaps better suited for a more intimate venue. Based on the best-selling book by Khaled Hosseini, the stage adaption by Matthew Spangler attempts to pare down a decades-long story of a man reflecting on his childhood in Afghanistan into a two-and-a-half-hour evening. It’s a massive challenge, and Spangler is mostly successful.

Shahzeb Zahid Hussain and Ramzi Khalaf

The beloved, reviled, and complicated characters readers expect from the book are brought to life onstage by a very talented company of actors and thrust into a simultaneously playful and sharp world. Scenic designer Barney George used wooden boards like a jagged fence to create the suggestion of a city skyline, and giant kites swooped down from above to create separation.

The Kite Runner National Touring Company

To tackle the expanse of the story, Spangler packed a lot of exposition into a series of sometimes tiring direct-address monologues from the protagonist, Amir, portrayed by Ramzi Khalaf. Khalaf gave an energetic performance, but through no fault of his own, the direct address began to feel a bit tedious by the time we reached intermission. The issue persisted in some of the more dialogue-heavy scenes in Act II when characters spent more lines providing context than actively moving the story forward. I found myself craving more of the captivating movement work I caught glimpses of throughout.

Salar Nader

That being said, the play hit its stride in moments of true connection between characters. I was captivated by scenes between Amir and his father played by Haythem Noor, whose comedic timing was impeccable. My favorite scenes however were those between Amir and Hassan, played by a heartbreakingly delightful Shahzeb Zahid Hussain. I loved him immediately and grew to love him more and more with every scene. The care Hussain clearly took with the character of Hassan made my heart bleed for him. Every time he left the stage, I wanted him back immediately.

Ramzi Khalaf

For those who have read the book, you know there is a controversial rape scene. You may wonder how this pivotal point of Amir’s childhood would be handled. During the lead-up to that moment, I was concerned as the fight choreography by Philip D’Orleans was a bit sloppy and unspecific, lending to a feeling of apathy rather than brutality. But, to my great relief, the event itself was handled with care, taking place out of sight and instead being described by Amir. I began to wonder if the sloppy fight choreography may have been a deliberate choice to convey their youth, but that thought was wiped away in Act II when fight choreography returned, this time with adults. This fight, which is said to be to the death, didn’t appear to be remotely lethal, with a few poorly placed punches thrown in some of the most obvious stage fighting I’ve seen (Kitty Winter is the “Movement Director”).

The Kite Runner National Touring Company

It would be remiss of me to finish without singing the praises of Khalaf as Amir. The sheer stamina required of him to lead this play is very impressive, and he did it while lending great honesty to the character. He gracefully stepped into his childhood, taking on the affectations of a young boy, and jumped seamlessly back into his adulthood to address the audience. His emotions took center stage many times throughout the performance, which I couldn’t help but feel would have been significantly more effective in a smaller space.

The Kite Runner National Touring Company

If I could change one thing about this production, I would pluck it out of CIBC Theatre and drop it into a smaller space — perhaps a black box or a thrust stage like you might find at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. This play is begging for intimacy with the audience. It wants the audience to come face to face with these characters, and a proscenium theater seating 1,800 is standing in the way. In a venue seating something closer to a hundred, I would have been able to see the expression on Ramzi Khalaf’s face when he reflected on the choice Amir made in his childhood that he could never take back. I can imagine I might have found myself moved to tears.

photos by Bekah Lynn Photography

The Kite Runner
national tour
presented by Broadway in Chicago at CIBC Theatre through June 23, 2024
Tues-Thurs at 7; Fri & Sat at 7:30; Sun at 1;
Sun at 6:30 (June 16 only); Wed at 1 (June 19 only)
tour continues; for dates and cities, visit visit The Kite Runner Broadway
follow @kiterunnerbway on Instagram, and Facebook

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

Leave a Comment