Once in a great while, there comes a moment in a darkened theater when one suddenly becomes aware of the thunderous silence that occurs as an audience holds its collective breath. It’s then that we remember just how uniquely exciting and involving live theater can be. During New Rep’s opening production of “The Kite Runner”, masterfully adapted by playwright Matthew Spangler from the much-loved 2003 novel by Khaled Hosseini, there were many such moments during which you could quite literally have heard the proverbial pin drop. This iteration of the story of two Afghan boyhood “friends”, in its New England premiere, reminds us of why we love theater.
As readers of the book and viewers of the film version will recall, this is the story of two boys (a servant and his master’s son, thus not truly friends) living in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1973 and what happens to them over the course of three decades. As with most creative storytelling, it is about many things that matter, and the consequences of the choices we all make. Primarily, “The Kite Runner” is about theft, its subsequent repercussions, and opportunities for redemption. Early in the first act of the play, the master of the house, Baba, tells his son Amir that theft is the one unforgivable sin. What is left unsaid, but will soon after be made clear to Amir as he matures, is that theft may take many forms: property, reputation, innocence, and the betrayal of love. Fortunately for theatergoers, there is also a chance to make amends, in the words of another servant, “a way to be good again”.
What this play proves is that, in the theater, there is a way to be great again. Tackling an adaptation of any literary source is fraught with pitfalls. Many a theater piece based on previously written material ends up overly episodic, and often succumbs to the temptation to have the play narrated by a character in order to make theatrical coherence out of an overabundance of plots and players. Miraculously, “The Kite Runner” in its present form, while full of flashbacks and narrated by the adult Amir, manages not only to stay fresh and involving but also intelligent and intelligible.
As impeccably directed by Elaine Vaan Hogue, with an excellent cast and crew, most of whom are making their New Rep debuts, this is a stunning start to a promising season. The entire ensemble is terrific, including Nael Nacer (so memorable in last season’s “The Temperamentals” at Lyric Stage Company) as the adult Amir, Fahim Hamid as his younger self, Ken Baltin as his father, and Luke Murtha as the young servant Hassan and in another pivotal role near the end of the play. Nacer’s performance, especially energetic and mesmerizing, is surely one for the ages. Technical credits were flawless, from the atmospheric Scenic Design by Paul Tate dePoo III to the eerie Lighting Design by Mary Ellen Stebbins to the authentic Costume Design by Adrienne Carlile and the chilling Sound Design by David Reiffel. There is even a credit, very appropriately, for the amazingly realistic Violence Design by Robert Najarian.
In the words of the young servant Hassan, repeated thirty years later by the adult Amir, if great theater is your passion, then this is “for you, a thousand times over”.