A chameleon goes from "The Blacklist" to "The Kite Runner"

One of the opening scenes of the new Broadway play “The Kite Runner” is spoken primarily in Dari, the Afghan dialect of Farsi, though th...


One of the opening scenes of the new Broadway play “The Kite Runner” is spoken primarily in Dari, the Afghan dialect of Farsi, though the action depicts a quintessentially American art form.

“This town isn’t big enough for both of us!” exclaims Amir, 12, to his best friend, Hassan. The two boys, posing as cowboys, love American westerns, especially “Rio Bravowith John Wayne. After a standoff, Hassan charges Amir, but Amir trips him and Hassan trips and falls. They struggle, tumble and giggle – blissfully unaware of the dark forces that will soon tear them apart.

The location is Kabul, the year is 1973, and the two actors playing the boys are actually adults. One of them, Amir Arison, 44, the veteran theater actor who recently left the hit NBC series “The Blacklist” after nine seasons, portrays Amir as a young boy and an adult.

The show, which is set to begin previews on July 6 at the Helen Hayes Theater, is based on Khaled Hosseini’s popular 2003 novel of the same name. It tells the story of Amir, a privileged Pashtun boy who grows up alongside Hassan, the Hazara son of his father’s servant. After an act of cowardice as a child, Amir spends most of the play reflecting and trying to atone for his failure to come to the aid of his best friend.

By playing Amir as both a child and an adult, Arison jumps between staging his childhood memories and telling them about the present. He does not leave the stage once.

It may be a daunting role, but Arison, who cut his teeth on Off Broadway stages before appearing as an FBI counterterrorism expert in some 190 episodes of “The Blacklist “, is leaving.

Over the years, he played a flashy Iraqi dermatologist in the documentary drama “Consequences”; a mysterious bride in Christopher Durang’s black comedy “Why Torture Is Wrong, and the People Who Love It”; and a government accountant at Stephen Belber “The muscles of our toes”

Yet, he said over lunch recently, the role is the biggest challenge in his professional and personal life. “In theater you cut your veins,” he said. “You give your voice, your body, your mind and your soul.”

Matthew Spangler, who adapted the story for the stage, said of the role, “It raises the bar a bit for this actor, but then it becomes something really virtuosic.”

While casting director Laura Stanczyk and cultural consultant Humaira Ghilzai ensured Afghan actors audition (and it was easy for them to do so), the role of Amir ultimately went to Arison, who is Israeli-American. . He grew up in Florida, the son of Israeli immigrants; his mother was born in a refugee camp for Holocaust survivors.

In March, when Arison landed the audition for Amir, his first call was to Ghilzai, whose family fled Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion. He didn’t know her affiliation with the show, but he had worked with her twice before – once for his role as a colonel in the Pakistani army in a West Coast production of JT Rogers”blood and gifts– and asked for advice on his accent.

Arison is a chameleon, Ghilzai said: he’s played Afghans, Arabs, Americans and “morphs into whatever you need him to be.”

“The Kite Runner” was first staged in 2007 at San Jose State University, where Spangler teaches performance studies. Its first professional production was in 2009 and has since been staged in several countries. The Broadway production, directed by Gilles Croft, is based on the version shown at the Nottingham Playhouse in 2013 and at Wyndham’s Theater in the West End three years later. (The game works primarily at the level of childish fable, schematically satisfying but frustratingly simplistic,” wrote Stephen Dalton in a Hollywood Reporter Criticism.)

The book – published two years after the September 11 attacks and the subsequent US invasion of Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban – has captivated millions of readers around the world. Now the play is coming to Broadway almost a year after the US withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban took over.

Hosseini’s story has given readers a rare inside perspective on Afghanistan and the intricacies of life there, but it also has, as Arison pointed out, universal themes of immigration, power, redemption and father-son relationships.

“The immigrant story never goes away,” Croft, the director, said in an interview. “Most of us have it somewhere inside of us. Even if we haven’t experienced it ourselves, somewhere in our past someone will have traveled to a place they think is better or safer. So we carry it with us.”

Just like Hosseini, whose family sought political asylum in the United States in 1980 after the Soviet army invaded the country, and told The Times last year that he still has “a perspective, and I feel strongly what is happening in Afghanistan.” (In “The Kite Runner”, Amir and his father also flee Afghanistan – first to Pakistan, then to the United States.)

With Arison, the cast has deep Middle Eastern and South Asian roots. Azita Ghanizadawho plays Amir’s wife, Soraya, and Salar Naderwho plays tabla on stage throughout the show, are both Afghans.

“It’s been really encouraging for me to see how dedicated they are to the performance,” Ghilzai, the cultural consultant, said of the cast members. “I think because their culture has been so distorted that they really, really, really want to do it right.”

Still, placing a non-Afghan in the central role was not a choice made lightly.

“What tipped me off,” Croft said of Arison’s casting, “is that he has an inherent warmth, generosity, and vulnerability—all of which are qualities the character possesses.”

Coaching the cast and creative team, Ghilzai guided the cast through Dari pronunciations, including character names and cities. Dialect is sprinkled throughout the script.

An actor recently asked Ghilzai about Afghan body language: what should he do if he loses in a competition? She advised doing a thumbs-up motion, a middle eastern insult. (They later replaced it with a different gesture, so the meaning wouldn’t get lost in translation.)

This production is Ghilzai’s first involvement as a consultant, and she worked closely with Spangler and Croft to reevaluate the text. In a pivotal scene in the second act, Assef (Amir Malaklou), the neighborhood bully turned Taliban member, taunts Amir, who has returned to Afghanistan from America.

“But America isn’t that bad,” Assef told him. “You know who taught me to use a Stinger Missile? Your CIA”

The line emerged from conversations between Ghilzai, Spangler and Croft and was added for this production. He acknowledges the role that US foreign policy has played in militarizing various groups in Afghanistan.

In his latest episode of “The Blacklist,” Arison’s eccentric character Aram Mojtabai told his colleagues that he is leaving the FBI and considering moving to New York, where, among other things, he would likely see “a Broadway show.” (The episode gave him the option to return.)

On Twitter, the actor explained to fans that he was a big fan of Hosseini’s novel, that he performed his first play in second grade and that he couldn’t let his life’s dream of becoming a movie go by. be himself on Broadway.

Although his role was “the least heroic hero you’ve ever seen,” he said in the interview, he came to see him as personally significant in ways he never expected. not.

At the start of the second act, Amir and his father are hidden inside a tanker truck, fleeing Afghanistan to neighboring Pakistan. Soviet soldiers stop the truck, and father and son do not know if they will live or die.

“The other day I lost it because I was thinking about my grandparents – that’s what happened to them,” Arison said. “It’s another way to connect, even though I’m not Afghan.

“So I hope – and I think every audience should take what they want,” he added, that “through individual history, we don’t forget that history repeats itself.”



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Newsrust - US Top News: A chameleon goes from "The Blacklist" to "The Kite Runner"
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