“The Kite Runner” – ASU Gammage

Theater Review – April 10, 2024

INSIGHTFUL “THE KITE RUNNER” GETS LOST IN THE INHOSPITABLE ASU GAMMAGE

“The Kite Runner”
Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

Matthew Spangler”s theatrical adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s best-selling book, “The Kite Runner” is an exquisitely intimate play that dissects the rich Afghan cultural heritage as it exposes its distinctive but destructive class system, women’s second-class stature, and the challenges of immigration.  But the play’s most distinguishing attribute is its exploration of the importance of friendship, something critical in every culture.  This makes “The Kite Runner” a universal piece.

The play begins in 1975 Kabul where Amir, rich and privileged as the son of a wealthy entrepreneur, grows up with his father’s slave son, Hassan.  The boys both enjoy kite flying. Amir betrays his friend before he immigrates to San Francisco.  Plagued by his youthful actions, Amir returns to now dangerous Kabul to find Hassan’s son and bring him to America.

The multi-layered and detailed plot takes many turns and twists as harrowing adventures finally end the play happily with Amir repaying his now dead friend.  “The Kite Runner” thoughtfully explores a culture many Americans do not understand and it is especially apt with today’s Middle East conflict.

The insightful touring production thoroughly explores this culture but to be completely successful the play must engulf theatergoers something the inhospitable ASU Gammage cannot achieve.  A spotty sound system also fails to conquer the hall’s dreadful acoustics and on opening night the sound sputtered and stopped on several unfortunate occasions.  Understanding every word is critical to grasping the play’s many cultural revelations.

An impeccable cast includes Ramzi Khalaf’s multi-faceted Amir which goes from a playful youth, to a friendship-defiant traitor, to a mature immigrant who believes he must make amends for his youthful betrayal couldn’t be more diverse or complex.  Shahzeb Zahid Hussain’s sensitive Hassan reveals Afghan’s anachronistic class beliefs. Everyone in the large cast turn these characters into believable representatives of the many aspects of this diverse culture.

Arizona Theatre Company mounted a flawless production of “The Kite Runner” in 2009 as this play’s local premiere.  The ATC production played at the Herberger Theater Center where every bit of dialogue could be heard and treasured.  Why does Broadway Across America, the booking agent for the local Broadway series, and ASU Gammage management present an intimate play in an unwelcoming theater with awful acoustics and terrible sight-lines?  It makes no sense.

While the play is touchingly insightful and strongly relevant in today’s times, playing this winner production in a dreadful venue shows how much the area needs a new theater with flawless acoustics and perfect sight-lines. Until that happens, what about the downtown Phoenix Orpheum Theatre? Not perfect but so much better for plays than ASU Gammage.

“The Kite Runner” continues through Sunday, April 14.  To order tickets, call the ASU Gammage box office at 480-965-3434 or order tickets online at www.asugammage.com.

Grade: B