I’ll admit it: I never got a chance to read “The Kite Runner,” Khaled Hosseini’s bestselling 2003 coming-of-age novel about a boy who grows up in Afghanistan. I have also not seen the 2007 film adaptation. (I did start, but did not finish, a graphic novel adaptation.)
This no doubt affects my assessment of the new stage version of the novel, which just began a limited run on Broadway – and apparently for the better.
From what I gather, Matthew Spangler’s adaptation is extremely faithful to the novel – so much so that the play often feels like an audiobook reading of the novel that is clumsily supplemented by multi-character scenes and digital projections.
By comparison, in the 2018 Broadway adaptation of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Aaron Sorkin made provocative changes with an eye towards dramatic structure, character development and contemporary cultural relevance. It was not a regurgitation of the novel or the well-known film version.
“The Kite Runner” begins in 1970s Kabul, where Amir (Amir Arison) is a wealthy young boy with a cold father named Baba (Faran Tahir) and a loving servant, friend, and kite-flying companion named Hassan (Eric Sirakian). The relationship between Amir and Hassan falls apart after Hassan falls victim to a brutal sex act, which Amir fails to prevent.
Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Amir and Baba flee to California, where Amir marries and becomes a writer. Right before 9/11, Amir is urged to return home, where he learns chilling truths about Hassan and his family and witnesses the brutal rule of the Taliban regime.
Arison (“The Blacklist”) spends much of the production supplying the audience with narration, exposition, and 30 years of global history. It is a lot to digest over the course of two and a half hours.
Nevertheless, “The Kite Runner” is an involving cross-cultural saga, in which betrayal and loss are followed by redemption. While Spangler’s adaptation and Giles Croft’s direction may be uninspired, the show is at least straightforward and easy to follow. Those who don’t already know the plot twists and turns of “The Kite Runner” are probably more likely to enjoy the production than those who read the book and are looking for more than a Wikipedia-style plot synopsis.
One can’t help but notice that the production hired a “Cultural Advisor and Script Consultant” (Humaira Ghilzai), assumedly in order to achieve authenticity. This may be in reaction to what happened two years ago with “The Boy Who Danced on Air,” a musical that also happens to be about boys growing up in Afghanistan, which was heavily criticized by Afghans for being superficial and insensitive.
Hayes Theater, 240 W. 44th St., thekiterunnerbroadway.com. Through Oct. 30.