The current offering in the Citadel season is The Kite Runner, adapted by Matthew Spangler from Khaled Hosseini’s novel. I hadn’t read the novel or seen the movie, so the story had me biting my nails in worry and taking my glasses off to wipe off tears.
The story unfolds in mostly short scenes introduced and narrated by the present-day Amir (Anousha Alamian). The setting moves from Kabul, Afghanistan, in the 1970s, to San Francisco, and then to present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. The different locations and moods are quickly and effectively evoked by lighting and simple props, and by music. Salar Nader performs original percussion music before and during the play. I wonder if it was difficult to adapt this storytelling format for the stage, making decisions about how many scenes and settings and characters were necessary and figuring out how to keep both the observer and the immediacy.
The play program has several pages of notes on the cultures, languages, and history illustrated in the play, showing the westernised or permissive times of the 1970s in Kabul and the discrimination against the Hazara people by the ethnic majority Pashtun, contrasting with the modern-day Taliban regime and its brutalities. The kite runner referred to in the title means someone who runs to salvage a prize kite after its string has been cut in a kite-fighting tournament – specifically in this story, the Hazara servant boy Ali (Parnelli Parnes) who grows up with the narrator Amir, son of a wealthy Pashtun merchant (Michael Peng).
But the crux of the story is universal. There’s a situation where Amir betrays Ali out of fear, and then Amir feels horribly guilty about it and does worse things to push him away. There was a heart-wrenching inevitability to that part of the story that had the audience gasping. Much later, there is a promise of redemption, and a dramatically-satisfying return to Kabul, but it is not a story with an easy happy ending.
The story is also about the awkward relationship between Amir, a boy who loves storytelling and kite-flying but is clumsy at soccer and fearful of bullies, and his confident intimidating father. Amir continues to feel like a disappointment to his father as he grows up in San Francisco and studies creative writing, but the closeness between the two of them gradually becomes more apparent as his father becomes old and ill. Amir’s love interest, Soraya (Dalal Badr), is a smaller part of the story, but we see enough of her to see that she’s a complex character with backstory of her own.
The Kite Runner is playing at the Shoctor Theatre until March 31st. I won’t write my thoughts about the later parts of the story and the outcome of the plot, because if you don’t already know it, you might want to see it without spoilers.