.‘The Kite Runner’ Returns to Its Theatrical Roots

When SJSU professor Matthew Spangler met Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, at a Starbucks in Evergreen nearly 20 years ago, neither one fathomed what would unfold.

Spangler became enchanted with the story just after it was originally published in 2003. As a playwright who often adapted his material from books, and one whose specific area of scholarship was about how refugees and asylum seekers are represented through the arts, Spangler thought The Kite Runner would look great on the theatrical stage.

“It’s got extra remarkable characters and an engaging narrative,” Spangler says. “And of course, it speaks to issues of immigration, what it means to leave your home, and why you might be forced to leave your home, and then come to a place like the San Francisco Bay Area, which is where the family comes in the book, and rebuild your life from the ground up. So these were the themes of the book that I was originally drawn to.”

Spangler first brought The Kite Runner to the stage for a three-week run at SJSU in 2007, using student actors, after which the San Jose Repertory Theater premiered the play in 2009. Four years later, both Nottingham Playhouse and Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse staged new productions in the UK. More recently in 2017, The Kite Runner returned to the stage in London’s West End, followed by a limited Broadway production in the summer of 2022.

Many other productions unfolded, yet there is no other play on earth with a more “San Jose” history than The Kite Runner. Hosseini came to San Jose as an Afghan refugee and then graduated from Independence High School. The San Jose Flea Market even appears in the book.

The current version returning to Hammer Theatre on April 3-7 is co-presented by EnActe Arts, a locally based international theater company that brings South Asian stories to universal audiences.

“Afghanistan is a country that has been through maybe four very deeply ancient cultures, and it’s a fascinating land,” says EnActe founder Vinita Belani, who started the company 11 years ago, partially to serve as a platform for developing all aspects of theatrical talent—music, dance, playwriting, acting, or stage management.

The Kite Runner begins in Afghanistan, not normally included in “South Asia,” yet since the stage production started in San Jose and has now been ratified all over the world, the decision was easy.

“Once you’ve played in the West End and Broadway, you’ve kind of arrived,” Belani says. “So to have an opportunity to bring it back to the Bay Area, that for me was the more exciting story.”

Now a worldwide bestseller, The Kite Runner has been published in 70 countries and sold over 31 million copies in 60 languages. With such mind-blowing numbers, Spangler admits he’s blown away by the story’s universal popularity. He can still remember meeting Hosseini at the Starbucks in Evergreen.

“I’ve lived with this play for 20 years,” he says. “I’ve seen it in a variety of audiences around the world. I’ve seen it in Dubai. It was produced in Russia, India, Germany.”

Spangler says that in addition to everything else, The Kite Runner is a story of regret. In the second act, the character tries to fix the things he did wrong in Act One.

“A lot of us have tried to do that,” Spangler said. “We’ve tried to set right, in ways, things that we regret. And if we could relive an experience, we would do it differently. But you can’t relive it. You can only keep going forward and doing things now, so I think on some very fundamental level, it touches a lot of people in that regard.”

The arc of redemption, the superficiality of class divides when moral divides are much greater, and the worldwide struggles of migrants and refugees are all why The Kite Runner has grown far beyond anything the author or the playwright imagined. The story is now completely out of their hands. It belongs to the world.

“I went to Broadway for opening night—the house was full,” Belani said. “There was not a dry eye in the house when everybody came out. People were just moved beyond belief.”

Gary Singh
Gary Singhhttps://www.garysingh.info/
Gary Singh’s byline has appeared over 1500 times, including newspaper columns, travel essays, art and music criticism, profiles, business journalism, lifestyle articles, poetry and short fiction. He is the author of The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy (2015, The History Press) and was recently a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. An anthology of his Metro columns, Silicon Alleys, was published in 2020.


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