Saturday, September 4, 2010

Kite Runner at Actors Theater

The tagline for Actors Theater's production of The Kite Runner is: A universal tale of friendship and family.  After you see the play, that line will give you chills.

I've been struggling with what to say about Kite Runner since I saw it on Thursday night.  After the play, Roommate and I grabbed beers at the brand new BBC that opened up on the same block as Actors (more on that in later post), and bleary-eyed, still sniffling, I told him that I thought I might skip blogging about Kite Runner, even though I always blog about every Actors show, whether I liked it or not.

Because my reaction to Kite Runner was decidedly not a matter of "not liking it."  It was that the play left me in deep, profound despair.  Even after the teaspoon of redemption at the end.

I changed my mind, though, on Friday.  I bumped into a friend who has two kids in their late teens, and I told her about my reaction to the play.  She'd read the book, so she understood where I was coming from.  But she said, "I'm not sure I want to see it.  But I think I want my kids to go."  They need to see it, she said,  because it delivers such an unforgettable message about the power of not "stepping up." And immediately, I knew she was absolutely right.

Serendipitously, this week Rosalind Wiseman was in town giving lectures to teachers, kids, and parents about the ethics of childhood, bullying, and social justice.  If you have a kid older than a toddler and you don't know who Wiseman is, you really should. (You probably know who she is:  She wrote the book Queen Bees and Wanna-Bes,  the non-fiction book that was the inspiration for the film Mean Girls.)  I spent hours on her website this week, reading her columns and watching her videos.  Her perspective and her methods changed me.  

One of Wiseman's messages is that we need to be teaching our children to find "Champion moments."  If you try to teach your kid to be a Champion-- someone who always sticks up for the under-dog, always does the Right Thing, all of the time-- it's too much pressure.  "Champion moments," however, are within the reach of any kid, no matter his or her social situation.  She teaches that the Bystander is as accountable for bullying and mischief as the actual bully.  And it is those moments when kids choose not to be the Bystander that they become Champions.

The Kite Runner is about the tragedy of the Bystander.  And the deeper tragedy of the victim of disloyalty.  It's about one child's decision to not "step up," as my friend says, and the life-changing destruction that it caused.  I hate to keep throwing the word "profound" around here, but it is profoundly disturbing.  Writing about the play now-- two days later-- I still seethe with anger and sadness.

The play is gorgeously staged, the stage to ceiling arabesque lattice backdrop casting shadows that sometimes read as tapestry and sometimes read as prison bars, the handsome cast and beautiful costumes.  The acting is fabulous.  The older Amir, the narrator, Jos Viramontes is immensely sympathetic.  The young actor Matt Pascua, who plays both Hassan and Sohrab, manages to project fragility and courage sometimes in the same instant.

Salar Nader, the internationally renowned tabla player, who sits far stage left for the majority of the show and provides a live soundtrack would have been the highlight of the production if I hadn't been so deeply impacted by the plot.  I was lucky enough to be seated just a handful of seats away from Nader, and until I got swept up in the tragedy, I had a hard time taking my eyes off of him.  His graceful virtuosity almost makes me want to see the play again.  I'm still a bit flabbergasted that Actors managed to land a musician of his caliber and fame.  William Tynon of Time magazine once wrote "From now on, maybe Broadway should be called 'off-Louisville'."  Grabbing Nader for The Kite Runner is just one of the reasons why.

Kite Runner runs through September 25 and is part of the Brown-Foreman series at Actors.  

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