Kite flying is a much-loved national pastime in Afghanistan and the basis of Khaled Hosseini’s Broadway debut play, the Kite Runner. The Taliban outlawed kite flying on the grounds it distracted young men from praying and other religious activities and thus set the stage and tension of this emotional rollercoaster of a play. This is not for the faint of heart.
We’ll continue after meeting some of the ebullient, friendly cast.
Amir Arison at the stage door, graciously shaking everyone’s hand, signing everything, and taking pictures with his fans. He even asked me for my name!
The Playbill with the fruits of my labor – everyone in the cast was unique and charming at the stage door. If it weren’t for Jennifer Lopez (J-LO) and her stepdaughter creating a scene, everything would have been perfect. Still, a fight ensued over the paparazzi and a car chase out in front of the theater, disrupting theater security.
Didn’t anyone tell Jennifer that Amir Arison was in the house? Photo credit: Elizabeth Ann Foster
Every seat in this tiniest theater on Broadway is excellent. A virtual carpet appears from lights on a canvas, changing colors and shapes to become the ground and different rugs. Ingenious. To the right, a column shields the lighting/audio team, and right around the corner, the best-kept secret of the Hayes – a single unisex bathroom.
Helen Hayes Theater, formerly the Little Theatre, is a most miniature theater on Broadway with a seating capacity of 299 until renovated with a new balcony. It now accommodates 597 seats across two levels. Any seat for this production is worthwhile, so save your money for larger theaters – any other theater on Broadway. If you are seated on the balcony, note a second lavatory hidden to the right when exiting. It is tucked away around the sound system and rarely used due to no signage.
Although Mrs. Doubtfire closed, the poster behind Sirakian showcases Rob McClure, who is now in Beetlejuice again. Photo credit: Elizabeth Ann Foster.
Hayes is one of my favorite theaters with a rich history of shows. Over the year in these halls, the late Jackie Mason walked, and many hits have run, including Xanadu, Slava’s Snow Show, The 39 steps, What the Constitution Means to Me, Clyde’s, and now Kite Runner.
A Boutique Audience
The audience this evening is a mixture of Afghanis, Pakistanis, various Persians, and the occasional curious non-descript American. Dressed in traditional clothing with hijabs, you may think you’re in Kabul, not NYC. I was amazed at the number of sweets women in attendance consumed throughout the play – no alcohol or drinks – but candy galore – Twizzlers, gummies, junior mints, and chips. No unwrapping occurred before the curtain. Everyone I spoke to had read the book and were big fans of Khaled Hosseini “anything.” It is as if he were a national hero rather than a book club favorite.
Tragic History and Heartbreak
One might describe this production as a historically correct context mixed with the plight of a fictitious refugee family. It provides Americans with a glimpse of Afghanistan and Pakistani culture and with a simplistic view of ethnic tensions in the countries and opening dialogue on pressing current issues. The child raped in the movie/novel is characterized on stage by Eric Sirakian. The character successfully reached aged 29 by dodging problems, including death threats that the original 12-year-old actors faced from their Hazara classmates for making the film. For their safety, Paramount relocated the child actors to the United Arab Emirates.
Pursuit of Happiness
This play is for anyone fond of exploring the earth’s diverse cultures, and the richness in which people interact. For those new to America, it may be a bittersweet reminder of what they left behind. For those that have been in America, you once again can confirm you exist in a free, diverse society where everyone can pursue happiness. The pursuit of happiness is not included in the bill of rights of most countries and while the kingdom of Bhutan can rate its king based on a happiness scale survey, this is the exception, not the norm.
A portion of ticket proceeds goes to support The Khaled Hosseini Foundation and USA for UNHCR, the U.N. Refugee Agency. It is ironic that in the play, the main character becomes a refugee in California in 1981 due to the Russian occupation, and today the UNHCR mission is “Helping Afghan Refugees: We will be supporting refugee resettlement organizations in the U.S. to help ensure Afghan refugees resettle safely and compassionately in Northern California.” The same scenario 50 years later, half a century, begs the age-old question of how many times history must repeat for us to learn.
It is a demanding production in which to perform eight times weekly, and the themes are violent, abusive, and demanding on every actor. It begins with Amir (Amir Arison) in 1975 stating, “What they say about the past – you can bury it,” foreshadowing events about to unfold, taking us to 2001.
A Tablar Artist
The minimalistic stage with a carpet at the center of the two acts projects as a skateboard park. Two ramps on either side mimic hills. A tablar artist (Salar Nadar) plays on stage left in the first act and then sets up on stage right for the second act. Two large screens that look like kites hang from the rafters, and objects are projected on them including kites, lavish wallpaper, and a pomegranate tree. Behind looms the cityscape of Kabul.
Narrated by the story writer Ari, we enter his consciousness to understand his complicated existence and what motivates him to action – or in some instances, inaction. There are moments of humor when as a child, Amir wants to go to Iran to meet John Wayne or pursue a fate thought worse than death of touring with a troupe of actors.
I was momentarily stunned by a comment in the play, “Drinking is a sin according to bearded self-righteous idiots.” This led to other thought-provoking lines like “All sin is theft, variations of theft.” Baba (Faran Tahir) states gems like “Children are not coloring books; you cannot fill them with your favorite color. I would not believe he was mine if I didn’t see him come out of the womb.” An audience favorite from Baba was, “A person who wastes his G-D-given talents is a donkey.” A disclaimer, he was not referring to U.S. politics.
Fast forward to San Francisco in 1981, when there is light, people dancing, music, bright colored (if sparse) clothing on people, and just overall cheer. The cultural divide is vast. Amir (Amir Arison), our narrator-protagonist, says, “America was a river I could wade into and let my sins dissolve.” Back to Baba, “when you adopt, you don’t know whose blood you bring into your house. Americans marry for love.”
Near the end of the play, a Pakistani doctor (Danish Farooqui) sums it up with, “You Afghanis are a little reckless. Take care.”
Adapted by Matthew Spangler, and is based on the novel by Khaled Hosseini.
Amir Arison (Amir as Amir), Faran Tahir (Baba), Danish Farooqi (Wali/Pakistani doctor), Azita Ghanizada (Soraya), Joe Joseph (merchant/Russian soldier #1), Dariush Kashani (Rahim Khan/Russian soldier #2/Dr. Schneider/Omar Faisal), Beejan Land (Kamal/Zaman/husband/radio announcer), Amir Malaklou (Assef), Eric Sirakian (Hassan/Sohrab), Houshang Touzie (General Taheri), Evan Zes (Ali/Farid), éChristine Mirzayan (pomegranate lady/wife/Andrews).
Running time: 2.5 hours, including one fifteen-minute intermission.
The Hayes Theater
240 West 44th St
New York, NY 10036
Phone: (212) 541-4516