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The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner

Amir Arison (left) and Eric Sirakian (Joan Marcus)


The Kite Runner


By Fern Siegel


The Kite Runner is a fictional account of an Afghan childhood, but it invokes real-life people and wartime. It is also an emotional experience in the theater, addressing issues of class, betrayal and redemption.


The story opens in Afghanistan in 1973 and ends in San Francisco in 2001. But in the ensuing years, Amir (Amir Arison) recounts the friendship between two boys and the cruelties endured during his privileged upbringing in Kabul, the nation’s capital.


The play is adapted by Matthew Spangler from the best-selling book by Khaled Hosseini, who wrote the novel after learning the Taliban had banned kites in Afghanistan, believing it distracted young men from religious pursuits. That simple premise underscores a larger concern: How the joys of childhood can be permanently destroyed by an act of violence.

The boys’ joint nemesis is Assef (Amir Malaklou), a teenage bully who is a foreshadowing of later Taliban horrors. Assef sadly proves Wordsworth’s line: “The child is the father of the man.”

As Amir, the son of the wealthiest businessman in Kabul (Faran Tahir), Arison delivers a quiet, powerfully calibrated performance as sensitive boy and tortured man. His Amir is packed with emotion, as well as restraint.


As he tells his intimate story, moving and chilling, he exposes the assumptions about class and family that can undermine relationships. And, as a child in Kabul, Amir is also forced to reckon with the vicious tribal bigotry of the Pashtuns against the Tajiks and Hazaras.


But it’s that initial act of cruelty that will define Amir’s and childhood best friend Hassan’s destiny. Hassan (a pitch-perfect Eric Sirakian) is the son of Baba’s servant, Ali (Evan Zes). Baba, Amir’s father, is unnerved by his unathletic son and hopes he will win the kite-running contest. It’s not enough to be the last kite flying; winners must destroy all rivals in the sky.


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Amir Arison (center) against the backdrop of the kite running in Kabul. (Joan Marcus)

Though the boys, as well as Baba and Ali, are close, the divides of master-servant remain — even if their alliance challenges conventional norms of the day.

“I thought about how the winter of 1975 changed everything,” Amir says, remembering the guilt he’s carried since the age of 12. And that’s before the Russians invaded Afghanistan and the Taliban gained a strong foothold. The country is then reduced to rubble and the lives of Amir and Hassan are forever altered.  

Giles Croft directs The Kite Runner at a pace that builds to a tense climax, aided by a haunting musical background provided by onstage tabla player Salar Nader. Croft also has a first-rate cast that tells the story of exile, from one’s country and oneself, in ways subtle and knowing.  

This isn’t a true story, but Hosseini has said the Afghanistan he knew as a child inspired the work of historical fiction. True, a book is often meatier. From a theatrical point of view, we only hear from Amir and his experiences, which traverse a difficult terrain: What do we owe others? Can we ever atone for the past?

While Croft favors minimalist staging and set design, he does evoke time, place and sensibility well. The Kite Runner is a harrowing journey rarely found on a Broadway stage.

The Kite Runner, Helen Hayes Theater, 240 West 44 St.

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, Through Oct. 30