Home News ‘Kite Runner’ play comes to San Jose, where it all started

‘Kite Runner’ play comes to San Jose, where it all started


'Kite Runner' play comes to San Jose, where it all started

Khaled Hosseini’s debut novel “The Kite Runner” was a sensation when it came out in 2003. Following one Afghan boy through the overthrow of the monarchy in Afghanistan, the Soviet Invasion, refugee life in Fremont and the rise of the Taliban, the book rose to the top of the bestseller list and was made into a 2007 movie.

Unrelated to the film, aside from the source material, the stage play of “The Kite Runner” has had a similarly circuitous journey.

Adapted by San Jose State University professor Matthew Spangler, the play was first produced at the university with students in 2007 and officially premiered at the late San Jose Repertory Theatre in 2009. Since then the play has been performed all over, including runs on London’s West End in 2016 and 2017 and Broadway in 2022.

Now it returns to the same venue that launched it 15 years ago, the Hammer Theatre, which has been operated by San Jose State since San Jose Rep’s demise in 2014.

The show is currently on tour in the United Kingdom, and the local visit kicks off its U.S. tour. Like the West End and Broadway productions, both tours are directed by Giles Croft, who first staged it in 2013 at Nottingham Playhouse, where he was was artistic director.

The version of “The Kite Runner” now playing is somewhat different from the one last seen in San Jose.

“Times are different, and certain lines that might have resonated in a particular way in 2007 or 2009 don’t resonate the same way today,” Spangler says. “Certain things in Afghan history or politics or culture are different today than they were then. I teach courses at San Jose State in how refugees and asylum seekers are represented through the arts. I don’t identify as an immigrant or in the space of Afghanistan myself, but many of the actors and people who come on board this show do identify in those ways, and the play has changed over time to accommodate what they’ve told me about how particular lines resonate with them or don’t resonate with them.”

It was through teaching that Spangler first connected with the novel and with author Hosseini, who also lives in San Jose.

“I had read ‘Kite Runner’ when it was first published, and I thought it’d be a good book to teach in my immigration class,” Spangler says. “My plays are almost all based on books, and after I taught the book and I saw how much my students loved it, I thought maybe there’s a play here. I reached out to Khaled Hosseini in 2005 and said, what do you think, could I write a play based on ‘Kite Runner’? So he and I met and talked about drafts of the script.”

Tabla player Salar Nader has been a key part of “The Kite Runner” from the beginning. He composed the music for the San Jose Rep production and has been performing in it from San Jose State to Broadway.

Born in Germany to Afghan refugee parents, Nader grew up in Concord, attending Diablo Valley College and San Francisco State. He started studying tabla with Zakir Hussain when he was 7 years old and has been performing professionally from a very young age. In fact, Nader was only 12 or 13 when he first met future author Hosseini, and it was Hosseini who put Nader in touch with Spangler when the play was in the works.

“Khaled’s father was from Herat, Afghanistan, and my father also grew up in Herat,” Nader says. “Fast forward two decades, and we’re all Afghan refugees living in the Bay Area. In 1994 I performed at this private gathering, and little did I know, it ended up being our author’s private engagement party. I had no idea of this. There was no New York Times bestselling author yet. I showed up to a book signing in 2004 at UC Irvine, and I nervously approached him because I knew there was a movie in the works and all that. And he looks at me and is like, ‘Salar?’ I’m like, ‘Yes. How do you know me?’ And he said, ‘I have a VHS tape in my house of my engagement party. You played tabla for like an hour and a half that night, and then you ran off and played basketball with the kids.’”

The story of “The Kite Runner” hits home for Nader as an Afghan American from the Bay Area. He’s reminded of family stories of daily life in Afghanistan and the Russian invasion and of keeping up with the turbulent changes there when he was growing up.

Now that the Taliban has taken over again and has even outlawed music, the story hits home even deeper.

“It’s so important for me to give a voice to the voiceless artists, artisans, musicians, sculptors, poets of Afghanistan right now, because they’re not able to practice what they have studied and what they’ve grown up doing,” Nader says. “Some musicians have had to literally bury their instruments in their backyard. So I’m trying my best to keep this light on as long as I can. I think it is so important to continue shining that light and not allow any governing body to dim the light of Afghanistan and its thousands of years of cultural traditions. I will not be able to just stand by and allow that to be erased.”

Contact Sam Hurwitt at [email protected], and follow him at Twitter.com/shurwitt.


By Matthew Spangler, based on the novel by Khaled Hosseini, presented by the Hammer Theatre and EnActe Arts

When: April 3-7

Where: Hammer Theatre, San Jose

Tickets: $65-$125; www.hammertheatre.com

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