Theater Review: THE KITE RUNNER (National Tour at The Kennedy Center in D.C.)

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by Lisa Troshinsky on June 27, 2024

in Theater-D.C. / Maryland / Virginia,Tours


Because the best-selling novel The Kite Runner, written by Khaled Hosseini, is so significant and well-revered, as is the 2007 movie screenplay by David Benioff, my expectations were high at last night’s opening to see the stage version, currently on a national tour at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater, directed by Giles Croft.

But Matthew Spangler’s adaptation made me glad I came and, after the first couple of scenes, I stopped making comparisons. Spangler’s adaptation is a seamless and powerful one. He successfully interlaces the story of loyalty, betrayal and redemption into a formidable script that will move audiences to tears and have them ponder existential questions of human nature.

Shahzeb Zahid Hussain and Ramzi Khalaf

The tortured tale is about two young boys in Afghanistan — well-to-do Amir who is Pashtun and Sunni, and Hassan who is Hazara and Shia. Hazaras were discriminated against, and even though the boys were fast friends, flying and running kites together, Hassan was officially Amir’s servant. Their relationship starts off complicated and only gets worse when Amir takes advantage of Hassan’s undying loyalty to him, betrays him, and spends many years feeling guilty and mourning the loss of his first true friend.

An example of their tentative power play is when Amir tests Hassan’s loyalty when he asks Hassan if he would eat dirt if he told him to. Hassan answers that he would, but then questions, “But you would never ask me to, right?”

The Kite Runner National Touring Company

Throughout the play Hassan sticks up for Amir when he is teased for his bookish ways, but Amir falters when it is time to return the favor.

The play starts in 2001 in San Francisco. Amir, a grown man now, and his father, Baba, managed to escape Afghanistan when the Russians invaded. The story is narrated by Amir and the ensuing drama are flashbacks that go back to 1973.

“The past continues to claw its way out,” laments Amir, as he tries to forget his past in Afghanistan with Hassan, but his guilt and sensitivity won’t let him.

Salar Nader

Director Croft made an interesting decision by having young Amir played by his adult self (the always engaging Ramzi Khalaf), to remind us that this is his memory, which is impassioned, but often unreliable. It is his interpretation of events. We get inside Amir’s head and find out that he never felt accepted by his prideful, self-centered father (forceful Haythem Noor) who wished him to be a “real man” (“Real” meaning don’t read and write poetry, says Baba).

Baba says to a friend and Amir overhears him say, “A boy who won’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything.” Amir internalizes this barb and it becomes his self-fulfilling prophecy he can’t shake. 

Ramzi Khalaf

The play makes it clear that Amir uses the anger he has for his father’s abuse but can’t stand up to, and takes it out on Hassan (sensitive Shahzeb Zahid Hussain). These are acts he can’t forgive himself for. And we find out later that Baba, Amir’s father, is angry at himself and channels that emotion into how he treats Amir. Here we see the inherited dance of unspoken regrets.

In the second Act, there is some humor interspersed into the drama. At one point, Baba declares “Fuck Russia!” and refuses to be treated by a doctor whose ancestors escaped Russia.

The Kite Runner National Touring Company

The play does an excellent job of displaying Afghan culture, history, and politics, which underlie the plot and themes. Cultural Advisor and Dialect Coach Humaira Ghilai ensures that the Farsi and English with a Farsi accent are authentic. Composer and Music Supervisor Salar Nader interweaves sounds and music – using singing bowls, traditional string instruments, and tablas– to accompany the action during tense and calm moments. For example, various characters whip ropes around in fast circles to imitate the wind, which is an ingenious and unique way to enhance sound effects. 

The Kite Runner National Touring Company

Lighting Designer Charles Balfour and Projection Designer William Simpson create a moving canvas that appears to be large tapestries or rugs, representing Afghan decorations, from which Amir and the characters step in front or in back of depending on the memories being related.

The Kite Runner is a powerful play worth seeing – for those who are new to the story and those who know it by heart. The story is one worth telling over and over again. 

As Hassan says to Amir, “For you, a thousand times over.”

photos by Bekah Lynn Photography

The Kite Runner
national tour
presented by The Kennedy Center through June 30, 2024
tour continues; for dates and cities, visit visit The Kite Runner Broadway
follow @kiterunnerbway on Instagram, and Facebook

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