ATC’S “THE KITE RUNNER” AS GOOD AS THE BOOK
First of all, the stage adaptation of “The Kite Runner” from the book by Khaled Hosseini is a complete success. If you loved the book you will love the production Arizona Theatre Company has prepared with meticulous attention to details of Afghan costumes and culture.
Matthew Spangler, a playwright and professor at San Jose State University, lifts the 30-year struggle of Amir to center stage, letting the character evolve through conflict and frustration as he reaches for resolution. An ensemble of 11 players become the many faces in the book – Amir’s boyhood friend Hassan, Amir’s proud father, the boyhood bully in Kabul, Amir’s wife, the neighbors and bureaucrats of Kabul so determined to keep a death grip on their ancient cultural values atrophied by centuries of rigidity.
There are many reasons to love the story of “The Kite Runner.” Even the 2007 film was a box office success. With the war in Afghanistan now hotter than ever, with the religious fundamentalist Taliban relentless in expanding their stranglehold on Afghan culture, ATC’s production directed by David Ira Goldstein couldn’t be more timely.
America itself is in the midst of a huge culture clash. Attitudes toward sexual promiscuity, marriage vows, trust between the races, masculine honor and situational ethics seem to change daily. In Afghanistan there is no such shilly-shally waffling. Right is right, wrong is wrong and the person holding absolute power at any particular moment gets to make all the rules.
All this conflict over values that are set in stone is an important part of the play. Barzin Akhavan is mesmerizing as Amir. His boyish innocence is convincing. His outbursts of anger are earned. He represents, essentially, all of us – polite on the outside, overwhelmed on the inside, always wanting to do the right thing but not always able to.
Akhavan lets us see all his smoldering indecision in every scene. Wanting to be a modern western man, he grapples with fulfilling traditional Afghan expectations. As Americans we are thinking “Come on, Amir. Be practical. Get real.”
But the Afghan view is presented so clearly it is impossible not to admire the certainty of those who believe they are absolutely right. Then right before our eyes, “The Kite Runner” shows us what calamities this ossified philosophy creates.
If there is any fault with Spangler’s adaptation, it is that he tries to stay too faithful to the book, tries to include too many of the side stories and undercurrents. In a sprawling novel, where each reader goes one-on-one with the written word, time is not the enemy.
On stage, with a room full of busy people the clock is always ticking. Today’s theater audience has become so soft, with such superficial interests and short attention spans, there is little patience with long plays.
“The Kite Runner” is in the mold of those theater classics of family drama written by Eugene O’Neil, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. Rich works that plumb the depths of relationships between fathers and sons, men and their mothers, women who want more than other women.
Hard core theatergoers are always complaining about the lighter fare so popular with most stage companies these days. ATC is taking a huge risk opening its season with a play of such substance. Everyone who complained about all those frothy mainstream productions in the past must step up to the box office right now and buy a ticket.
As Amir himself would say, “It’s the right thing to do.”
“The Kite Runner” plays at various times Tuesdays through Sundays to Oct. 3 at the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. Tickets are $26-$50, with discounts. Rush tickets on sale before each performance. For details, 622-2823, or visit www.arizonatheatre.org