THE KITE RUNNER
Adapted by Matthew Spangler from the novel by Khaled Hosseini; directed by Elaine Vaan Hogue; violence director, Robert Najarian; scenic designer, Paul Tate dePoo III; costume designer, Adrienne Carlile; lighting designer, Mary Ellen Stebbins; sound designer, David Reiffel; composer, musical director, Ryan Edwards; properties designer, Lauren L. Duffy; dialect coach, Christine Hamel
Cast in alphabetical order:
Ken Baltin, Baba and others; Paige Clark, Soraya and others; Scott Fortier, Rahim Khan and others; Fahim Hamid, Young Amir, ensemble; Ahmad Maksoud, Kamal and others; Johnnie McQuarley, Ali and others; Luke Murtha, Hassan and others; Nael Nacer, Amir; Robert Najarian, Wali and others; Dale Place, General Taheri and others; FrEd Williams, Musician, ensemble; John Zdrojeski, Assef and others
Performances and Tickets:
Now through October 7, New Repertory Theatre, Charles Mosesian Theater, Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, Mass.; tickets $28-$58 available by calling the Box Office at 617-923-8487 or online at www.newrep.org.
For those worried that they may miss important references in the stage adaptation of The Kite Runner (at New Rep in Watertown through October 7) if they haven't read Khaled Hosseini's very popular 2003 book, fear not. Matthew Spangler's sprawling narrative drama, Elaine Vaan Hogue's animated and inventive direction, and uniformly potent performances from the entire cast create a visually and emotionally rich piece of theater that flies quite smoothly on its own.
Spanning 30 years, from Afghanistan in the 1970s to San Francisco and back again, The Kite Runner follows the very different paths taken by childhood friends Amir (Nael Nacer), a Pashtun Sunni Muslim born to wealth and privilege in pre-revolutionary Kabul, and Hassan (Luke Murtha), a Hazara Shia Muslim whose father is a servant to Amir's. As youngsters, Amir and Hassan are inseparable, acting out scenes from John Wayne movies and teaming up to win their city's much celebrated annual kite-fighting competition. However, after witnessing, but running away from, a brutal attack on Hassan by a band of local thugs, Amir turns on Hassan, twisting his own guilt and self-loathing into unwarranted accusations and hatred. When Amir and his father, Baba (Ken Baltin), escape to America just before the overthrow of the monarchy, Amir's guilt follows him. It's not until years later, just after 9/11, when he is called back to Afghanistan by an old family friend, that he takes responsibility for his past and seeks redemption.
The politics and culture of Afghanistan are ever present in The Kite Runner, but they serve only as backdrops to Amir's more universal story. In fact, if it weren't for Paul Tate dePoo III's heat-seared set of stone walls and earthen floors, and the foreboding Middle Eastern drumming of hovering minstrel FrEd Williams, the early action could just as easily be taking place in a private American schoolyard. There's nothing particularly unique about a group of rich bullies tormenting a poor young outsider while another more cowardly member of their social class does nothing to intervene. What elevates The Kite Runner above any ordinary Lifetime Television drama, however, is the staging – and a host of elegantly simple performances at its center.
Since The Kite Runner is fashioned as an autobiographical purging of past sins by writer Amir, Nael Nacer has the unenviable task of narrating the entire story. He describes action, provides background, and confesses his own role in affecting the twists and turns of the harrowing, yet somehow predictable, plotline. However, Spangler and Vaan Hogue give Nacer enough opportunities to step into the drama so that the playing never becomes static. Vaan Hogue also creates a sense of self scrutiny for Amir by having his younger and older selves alternate between shadowing and observing each other.