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Review: ‘The Kite Runner’ at the Benedum


This week, I had the opportunity to experience a play with which I had only ever been familiar by the title. The Kite Runner, based on the best-selling novel of the same name, is a beautiful story about friendship, family, guilt, and redemption. I found the show to be profoundly moving, and I know it will leave an imprint on every audience member who encounters it. 

Ramzi Khalaf as Amir in The Kite Runner
Photo by: Bekah Lynn Photography

Khaled Hosseini first published The Kite Runner as a novel in 2003. It quickly became a critical and commercial success, leading to a theatrical film release in 2007 and a stage adaptation in 2009. 

The story follows a man, Amir, as he looks back and recounts his childhood growing up in Afghanistan in the 1970s. Hassan’s best friend, a young servant boy, is extraordinarily loyal to Amir and becomes his right-hand man throughout the two’s countless adventures. On the day of the Kite flying tournament in Kabul, Hassan becomes a victim of an attack. Amir is the sole witness but does nothing to protect Hassan. The guilt of Amir’s cowardice strains the friend’s relationship, and the two are soon separated when a war breaks out in their country. Amir and his father flee to the United States, while Hassan stays in Afghanistan. Years pass, and Amir is confronted in adulthood about his past sins. He is given the opportunity to redeem himself by taking a trip to Afghanistan to set the events of his past right. 

The Kite Runner plays at the Benedum Center as the last show of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s – 2023/24 PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh season. As much as I adore this theater, one of my few complaints with this production is that the Benedum was ill-suited for a show of this nature. Nothing against the touring production or even the Benedum itself; rather, the show felt as if it should be seen and performed in a theater in the round space. I believe a more immersive and intimate space would help audiences connect more with the material’s vulnerability. I realize, though, that theaters like the Benedum allow a much larger number of audiences to see a show like this. 

Salar Nader as Tabla Artist in The Kite Runner
Photo by: Bekah Lynn Photography

An aspect of this show I enjoyed was the presence of a live musician on stage. The Tabla Artist, Salar Nader, played the drums on stage throughout the show. This was not only a way to highlight the music of the culture, but it helped to set the time, place, and tone of the show. Most of the play is told through narration by Amir, so it felt like his personal soundtrack that showcases who he is and where he comes from. Several times during the show, actors came on stage with various instruments and objects to help create sounds and noise for scenes that created a chilling but enthralling atmosphere.

The cast of The Kite Runner is comprised of about thirteen actors who take on double or triple duty playing the various characters in Amir’s life. My one issue with doubling roles is that it took time to determine when an actor was a different character. Some actors played pivotal characters in one scene and a background character in the next. The only argument I could see for this is that the people Amir encounters resemble and remind him of people in his past and are constant reminders of his home. 

Shahzeb Zahid Hussain as Hassan and Ramzi Khalaf as Amir
Photo by: Bekah Lynn Photography

The actors I was the most impressed by were Ramzi Khalaf and Shahzeb Zahid Hussain, who played Amir and Hassan respectively. The story is told primarily through narration, so Khalaf has a massive role to perform. Not only does he have the most lines in the show, but his presence and performance set the tone for the show. This role could easily swallow any actor up, but Khalaf did an excellent job keeping the audience enthralled while being able to juggle the heavy material featured in the show. Hussain gives a beautiful performance as Hassan. He gave such a moving performance; I felt my heart break every time he was on stage. I don’t think the story would have hit me as hard as it did had it not been for his performance. Khalaf and Hussain work great opposite each other and are a wonderful pair to tell this beautiful story of these two best friends. 

I’ve shared a couple of criticisms for this show thus far, and my only other one is its slow nature, which has to do with the book more so than the performances or direction. The narration aspect of the show makes the play feel much longer than it is and drags the show’s pacing at times. The narration, in general, is hit or miss. Sometimes, it works, but you have an entire cast to tell the story, so why not use them? The first-person narration works for a novel, but I don’t know how well it works for the stage in a two-hour and thirty-minute play. 

The Kite Runner is a powerful story about friendship and redemption. It highlights the faults and weaknesses that we all possess. It encourages you not to be afraid to love and to stand up for what is right no matter the cost. 

In the parking garage, I overheard a woman saying she felt like she held her breath the whole show because she was so invested in the story. I, too, felt myself getting lost in the story, and I think many audiences will feel the same. Although the show is rather heartbreaking and sad, at its core, it has a message of forgiveness and love—a sentiment that is never too cliché to be reminded of. 


The Kite Runner plays at the Benedum Center through May 12, 2024 For tickets, visit: