Upon a stage ornamented with patterns suggestive of the Middle East, beautiful wire sculpting in the background evocative of a sun, trench warfare, and lush trees, Khaled Hosseini‘s deep, complex characters come across flat.
While the costumes of Linda Cho are pure genius, complementing the poetic set with a masterful use of color and style, those costumes are the only evidence of character growth. While the blocking and artistic direction of Carey Perloff is natural and fluid, the line delivery is often stony and actions rehearsed. The greatest crime, however, is the overdone melodrama seeking to take the place of true drama.
The audience is robbed of catharsis when the characters sacrifice emotion for easy jokes, such as the scene in which Haysam Kadri‘s Rasheed casually announces that he has traded in the wedding band of his current wife, Mariam (played by Kate Rigg – a comedienne, notably), to purchase a lovely jeweled ring for his new wife, Laila (played by Nadine Malouf). A line which might have given depth to the complex relationship of the two women is instead left in the realm of comedic relief – but relief from what? No real emotions are allowed. Carelessness such as this pervades.
While Perloff’s direction is stylistically visionary, it fell short when it came to the actual acting. Hosseini’s novel, and Ursula Rani Sarma‘s adaptation for stage, is about depth of character, complexities of emotion, and moral trials and traps. While the female characters are the backbone of the story, every character in San Francisco’s production is far from simple, even the villains. The despicable Rasheed is unfortunately the most three-dimensional character, but even he is reduced to a laughable buffoon.
I don’t want to lay the blame on any one individual for the disappointment I felt at this production, but the dramatic presentation seems haphazard. Neel Noronha, the young boy who played Zalmai, is fun to watch and devoted to his role. Nikita Tewani is a convincing young girl as Aziza. And there is no doubt that the whole ensemble enjoys themselves. That alone, however, is enough to justify a high-school theatre production, not a professional show.
It’s unfortunate that my first review is so negative. I promise I’m not always this harsh. However, a story as meaningful as Hosseini (and Sarma) has written deserves to be told deliberately. Some members of cast and crew came with that intent, but the majority rode the emotional nature of the subject matter, expecting that alone to being audience adoration. Personally, I’d like to see Sarma’s masterful script produced by a troupe who wholeheartedly cares about the story they’re telling.