Turning tears into pearls – a review of “The Kite Runner”

A. Nonny Moss

When Amir (Ramzi Khalaf) is frozen with cowardice at an inopportune time, he plummets down a shame spiral causing repercussions that follow him from Afghanistan, America and back again in “The Kite Runner.”

Amir recounts his childhood growing up in Kabul in the 70s. He spends his days on his family estate with Hassan (Shahzeb Zahid Hussain) playing, reading and flying kites.

In a conceit of the show, Amir relives these moments. The actor inserts his adult self into his childhood. Yes, Khalaf acts like a child in some of the scenes, but his work is so extraordinary that he’s able to really sell it.

Our protagonist explains his rocky relationship with his father or baba, who is simply called Baba (Haythem Noor).  Amir wants to be a writer, and Baba doesn’t think highly of the profession.

Later in the story, we meet Amir’s wife, Soraya (Awesta Zarif) and his father-in-law, General Taheri (James Rana).  The general doesn’t think fondly of writers, either.

“The Kite Runner” does have a kite contest at the center of the play, but its not really about kites. If you think you’re getting a light-hearted story about kites, i.e. Charlie Brown fighting with a neighborhood tree, you will be in for a rough time.

When Hassan chases the kite once its free of its string, he runs into Assef (played on opening night by Kevin Stevens). Amir follows, but hides in the shadows when he spots Assef and his fellow bullies. The moment changes Amir and Hassan’s friendship forever more.  His cowardice on that fateful day becomes the crux of the story.

Amir (Ramzi Khalaf) flies his kite while the spectators watch it soar in “The Kite Runner.”

In 2003, Khaled Hosseini’s book “The Kite Runner” was on the New York Times Bestseller’s list. The book became a movie in 2008. In 2009, Matthew Spangler wrote an adaptation for the theater.

If you’re wondering, “Is it still relevant today?” The answer is a resounding yes!

The entire cast is terrific.

Khalaf is marvelous as Amir.  He’s able to swiftly move from adult to child throughout the show.

Hussain’s Hassan is glorious. He is charismatic and charming. The actor shows up as another character, too, but we are steering clear of spoilers here.

Noor is imposing, threatening, but in the final act, he softens. It may seem like Baba is a stereotype, until he isn’t.

Rana’s Taheri is equally imposing, but his character is even slower to change than Baba.

Zarif has a few great moments when she reveals Soraya’s own secret shame, but both Rana and Zarif come into the story in the second act. They make great use of their limited stage time.

Stevens’ Assef is menacing. He shows up in a handful of scenes, but he terrorizes Amir in almost every moment. His character is a racist bully that uses his political beliefs to forward his own dark agenda.

From the moment the Tabla Artist (Salar Nader) comes out and sits down,  the audience is drawn in. The play clocks in roughly around two hours and thirty minutes, but you won’t feel it. It is moving, engaging, and emotional.  Spangler’s adaptation flows nicely, speeding forward with direction by Giles Croft.

While “The Kite Runner” can be bleak, it’s filled with small joyful moments. The show reminds us that even in the darkest corners there is light. A small smile can be the beginning of more smiles to come.

“The Kite Runner” is a powerful story that will bring laughter and tears, especially tears, but it ends on a cathartic line about those hints of smiles to come: “When the spring comes, it melts the snow one flake at a time.”

– A.N. M.

“The Kite Runner” runs from May 7 to May 12 at the Benedum Center, 237 Seventh Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15222.  For more information, click here. 

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