NEW YORK—”There is a way to be good again” is the most telling phrase uttered during the Broadway drama “The Kite Runner.” Adapted by Matthew Spangler and based on Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling novel, the show is an involving, if somewhat flawed, tale of friendship, betrayal, familial relationships and rivalry, and class distinctions.
In 1975, Amir (Amir Arison) is a 12-year-old boy growing up in Kabul, Afghanistan. His father Baba (Faran Tahir) is a rich and powerful merchant. Amir’s constant companion, since he can remember, is 11-year-old Hassan (Eric Sirakian), son of Baba’s long-time servant Ali (Evan Zes). A quiet sort, Amir is happiest when reading a book or trying to write a story, although Baba would prefer that his son instead show more of an interest in sports.
Even though Amir and Hassan spend most of their time together, the fact they belong to different social classes is always present. Looking back on those times, Amir’s adult self recalls that he never really thought of Hassan as a friend. Hassan, meanwhile, is totally devoted to Amir, and is a master with a sling shot. Hasan uses these qualities to save himself and Amir from some local bullies, a trio led by Assef (Amir Malaklou).
One day, after Amir and Hassan take part in Kabul’s annual kite flying tournament, Hassan becomes the victim of a brutal attack, an assault Amir witnesses, and does nothing to stop.
Although Hassan never speaks of the incident, and may not have been aware of Amir’s presence, Amir is consumed by guilt over his inaction, and tries to avoid Hassan whenever possible. Eventually, he accuses Hassan of theft in an attempt to force Ali to leave Baba’s employment and take Hassan with him. In this Amir succeeds, despite Baba’s pleas for them to stay.
However, Hassan’s departure does nothing to ease Amir’s conscience, nor does the passage of time. From fleeing Afghanistan with his father in the wake of a Russian invasion to beginning a new life in San Francisco, to finding love with fellow immigrant Soraya (Azita Ghanizada), to achieving success as a writer, the memory of what happened continues to haunt him. It is only when he receives a summons from his father’s former associate (Dariush Kashani) that Amir realizes he must return to his homeland and try to put things right.
The need for forgiveness, and to be able to forgive oneself, is the central theme in “The Kite Runner.” Amir suffers not only from what happened with Hassan, but also from the belief that he killed his mother (she died in childbirth), and that his father has never forgiven him. Amir is not alone in trying to atone for his mistakes. Soraya, for example, reveals things in her past she is not proud of, and Baba is afraid to reveal his own secret for fear of how his people will react.
Another common theme is the way people from similar circumstances can be perceived quite differently. Amir and Hassan are treated in differently because of their different class status, even though they grew up together.
Amir is also treated differently when, as an adult, he returns home to find his country radically changed and finds himself regarded as little more than a tourist. Other issues explored include doing a clear wrong for a greater good, and how inflexible bureaucracy can be, no matter how extenuating the circumstances.
Too Much, Too Fast
Despite all it has going for it, the show ultimately falters because it tries to cover too much material in the time allotted. This is particularly evident in the final scenes, which feel both overlong. There are several places where the story could actually end. At the same time, it feels rushed. There is no chance to fully explore several important plot points, such as how one character came to possess certain key information, or why some plot points immediately disappear from the story after being revealed.
Arison, who is onstage the entire play, is excellent as Amir, although it takes a few minutes for one to believe his portrayal of a 12-year-old. His most powerful moments come when he is vocally silent and unable to tell anyone, including the woman he loves, of his secret shame, even as his expressions and pauses speak volumes.
Sirakian is very good as Hassan, a boy completely loyal to Amir, even in the worst of times, although Sirakian’s later performance as another character doesn’t quite ring true.
Tahir is nicely imposing as Baba, a man with an almost regal bearing, although he can still crumble when the right buttons are pushed. Ghanizada offers just the right note as Soraya. Her initial meeting with Amir and their subsequent courtship comes off as very sweet. Malaklou cuts quite the menacing figure as Assef.
“The Kite Runner” has a lot to say, but in trying to tell too much, never fully soars to the skies.
‘The Kite Runner’
Helen Hayes Theatre
240 W. 44th St.
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or Telecharge.com
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission)
Closes: Oct. 30, 2022