Sunday, October 24, 2010

A kite that won't fly

(The cast of "The Kite Runner" at the Cleveland Play House. Photo by Alan Simons.)
Those whose kitsch reveries extend back to the days when Julie Andrews first skipped across the Alps may also shed a nostalgic tear at the thought of classic illustrated comic books. These highbrow dimestore treasures attempted the bizarre legerdemain of stuffing the complexities of world literature into the equivalent of an illustrated pamphlet.

If you still have a yen for this absurd brand of condensation, you may get a kick out of the Cleveland Play House's mechanical yet effective stage rendering of the best-selling novel and film, "The Kite Runner." Admittedly, Khaled Hosseini's book chronicling the journey of an Afghanistan immigrant atoning for his childhood betrayal of a devoted servant and companion is light years away from literature. However, it offered the aphrodisiacal charm of compelling pulp. The novel suffers from a schizophrenia that has plagued all of its incarnations. Its first half plays out like an Islamic variation on "To Kill a Mockingbird" dealing with youthful trauma and the difficulties of living up to the expectations of a larger-than-life, noble father. The second half oddly seques into the improbable swashbuckling you would expect out of an Indiana Jones adventure.

The verisimilitude of the screen helped the novel's improbabilities go down easier. But for the stage there's too much plot and the unfortunate presence of a narrator, all giving the feeling of an overcrowded airport, where if you look down at your watch for a second you may miss your plane, in spite of director Marc Masterson's honorable attempt at flight control. This is the Play House's second dalliance with translating a film to the stage. "The 39 Steps" remedied this situation by having its actors juggle the plot complications in the manner of jubilant circus performers playing out as an energetic spoof of the Hitchcock canon. Here, done straightforwardly in Matthew Spangler's busy theatrical adaptation, it seems to violate the natural Darwinian progression of stage to screen, creating something that's not fully equipped to survive on its own.

Under such challenging circumstances, the cast manages to impart an amazing amount of authenticity. As the heroic patriarch, Baba, Nasser Faris adds heartbreaking pathos as he goes from powerful Afghanistan millionaire to bedraggled immigrant trying to make a living selling trinkets in a California swap meet. But it would be nice to return to those halcyon days when drama was made of language instead of replications of cinematic edits and stood still long enough so you wouldn't need Dramamine.

"The Kite Runner" runs through Nov. 7 at the Cleveland Play House. For tickets, go to or call 216-795-7000, ext. 4.

No comments:

Post a Comment