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By Josephine Craven

“The Kite Runner” is a stage adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's acclaimed 2003 novel, focusing on Amir, a young boy from a wealthy family in Kabul, Afghanistan, and his complex relationship with Hassan, the son of his father's servant. Despite their close bond, Amir betrays Hassan during a kite-flying tournament, an act that haunts him throughout his life. Amir and his father eventually flee to America to escape the Soviet invasion and later the Taliban regime. The story culminates with Amir returning to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan years later to confront his past and seek redemption.

Matthew Spangler’s adaptation, praised for its faithfulness to the novel, has been staged globally since its debut in 2007. Directed by Giles Croft, this production began in Nottingham in 2013, with runs in the West End, Broadway, and the current traveling production at the CIBC Theatre in Chicago.

While some reviewers criticize the heavy first-person narration, finding it plodding or visually unstimulating, I mostly disagree. As an Irish person, where storytelling is a cultural staple, I found it compelling, particularly due to the gifted lead actor, Ramzi Khalaf. Rich storytelling can resonate deeply with an audience without the need for elaborate tricks or gimmicks.

However, I have two caveats with this production. Firstly, the kites themselves. In terms of theatricality, the kites could and should have been more spectacular. One imagines a kite-flying tournament with gorgeous, multicolored creations dancing in the sky. Instead, the kites in this production were uniformly small, white, and lackluster. Even the kites in William Simpson’s otherwise beautiful projections onto Barney George’s simple yet effective set design were the same drab kites. Given that kites symbolize both innocence and betrayal in the story, more magnificent kites would have enhanced the production and perhaps mitigated some criticisms of the narration style.

My second caveat concerns casting. The ensemble cast of 15 took on multiple roles, which generally worked well. However, Wiley Naman Strasser, a tall, striking-looking actor with a bald head who portrayed the villainous Assef, did not alter his appearance when playing other characters. Simple changes like a hat, wig, or facial hair could have helped distinguish his roles better. Instead, whenever he appeared on stage as a different character, we saw Assef and by extension were reminded of his heinous act, which distracted from the narrative.

Aside from these issues, the production shines with strong performances from the entire cast and simple yet effective staging that seamlessly transitions from hot Afghan summers to San Francisco high rises. A continuous soundtrack by tabla artist Salar Nader is crucial to the storytelling's rhythm and momentum, enhancing the overall atmosphere and cultural authenticity.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this production. The two and a half hour running time flew by, engaging and entertaining both myself and the audience around me, who rose to their feet for a well-deserved standing ovation at the end.

“The Kite Runner” runs through June 23 at the CIBC Theatre, 18 West Monroe. Showtimes are Tuesday-Thursday, 7pm; Wednesday matinee, 1pm on June 19; Fridays and Saturdays, 7pm (with Saturday matinees at 2pm); Sundays at 1pm with one evening performance on June 16 at 6:30pm. Tickets start at $35, available at broadwayinchicago.com.