Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 tearjerker novel “The Kite Runner” has no shortage of terrible traumas: deaths, beatings, a rape, the disastrous takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban. To say the very least, it’s a lot.
All that immense pain could prove overwhelming for the reader, yet the author’s gift for writing sumptuous imagery and tender, nuanced relationships softens the blow. It became a book-club staple for years.
2 hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission. At Hayes Theater, 240 W. 44th St.
Onstage, of course, we don’t have hundreds of pages to let the ambitious tale breathe. We’ve got 2½ hours. So the sheer number of tragedies makes “The Kite Runner” an especially tough story to adapt without turning it into a soap opera — an emotional shellacking.
That treacherous trap, however, is shrewdly avoided on Broadway, where a moving stage adaptation of the book opened Thursday night, because of the actors’ radiating warmth and the production’s generosity of spirit.
It’s a straightforward, to-the-point play, but one that’s easy to embrace and gripping as it unfurls.
We first meet Amir as a boy in Kabul, Afghanistan. He’s portrayed both as a child and, later, a grown-up by adult actor Amir Arison, an empathetic performer who doesn’t mug or overplay youthful traits the way so many actors do.
Amir’s family are wealthy Pashtuns, while his best friend and in-house servant, Hassan (Eric Sirakian), is a Hazara — an Afghan race that faces extreme discrimination at home. Bullies, including a jackass named Assef (Amir Malaklou), mock and threaten them both for being against-the-grain pals.
Hassan’s father Ali (Evan Zes) has served the family and Amir’s dad (Faran Tahir), who he calls Baba, for 40 years. They consider Hassan and Ali family, but the class divide is always hovering over every interaction.
The social stigmas, not to mention the macho culture around them, take a devastating toll on the friendship. All the while, the Taliban’s brutal incursion shatters their country.
Act 2 is set mostly in the United States, and we learn what’s become of both boys — and their bond we root hard for.
Giles Croft stages the drama speedily and without fuss on Barney George’s spare, half-pipe-style set. He’s not a showy director, and scenes are presented simply with minimal furniture and no pretentious tricks. Unencumbered, the actors are free to do their thing.
Sirakian is a big talent, who at first gives us a Hassan who is so doting and sweet, and later on in another role, a tortured, trembling, distraught young man. Our concern for Hassan’s well-being — made greater by this actor’s commendable Broadway debut — is in large part what makes the show work.
He’s part of a uniformly strong cast. Tahir and Zes are both affecting as proud men who, for different reasons, find themselves torn down and emasculated.
Hosseini’s story, spanning three decades and two continents, is plot heavy, and so to shove it all in, playwright Matthew Spangler has Amir narrate the tale while a drummer sits downstage punctuating the speech. All that exposition, while necessary to arrive at our destination, can feel like we’re packing one suitcase for a five-month vacation.
Still, as far as literary stage adaptations go — a touch-and-go genre if there ever was one — “The Kite Runner” is enormously satisfying and soulful.