National tour of ‘The Kite Runner’ comes to Dayton

Afghanistan’s tabla virtuoso, Salar Nader, will provide music onstage.



The ties that bind musician Salar Nader to the “The Kite Runner” are musical and more.

“Some people like to call me the witness between the audience and what’s happening on stage,” said the musician who performs onstage as the story unfolds.

The Broadway “play with music” comes to the Victoria Theatre May 28-June 2 courtesy of The Human Race Theatre Company and Dayton Live. It’s based on the popular book by Khaled Hosseini and revolves around the complicated relationship between two friends, Amir, and Hassan. whose lives are torn apart at a kite-flying tournament. The first act takes place in Kabul, Afghanistan, the second in Pakistan and the United States.

In many ways, Nader’s personal story parallels the lives of the characters in the show.

“This play hits me right in the heart and rattles me to my core,” Nader said.

“It represents our people, our culture, our arts. My parents fled Afghanistan during the Russian invasion in 1979. That is similar to the play in which the lead protagonist, Amir, and his father, Baba, leave Afghanistan.”

Nader’s family eventually settled in Northern California in 1985; in the play Baba and Amir leave Afghanistan and come to the Bay area.

“That area became a cultural hub, not only for Afghans, but the author of the book,” Nader said. “In the play, Baba, who has been a wealthy businessman in Kabul, has to start over with nothing and work at a San Jose flea market selling one-eyed Barbie dolls.”

Nader, a percussionist, composer, producer, and educator, has been involved with “The Kite Runner” for the past 20 years, composing and performing in six previous productions throughout North America, including on Broadway. He’s best-known for playing multiple tablas, a set of drums that can be tuned. At the moment, he’s excited about having just received a 100-year-old instrument from Kabul, a Dholak Paghmani. He’ll play it during a scene that features the Attan, Afghanistan’s national dance.

He is also excited about the new podcast documentary series hosted by John Legend on iHeart Podcasts that focuses on a popular music talent show, “Afghan Star,” that was canceled after 15 seasons when the Taliban regained power and banned music. He’s hoping someday to be a part of it.

Nader believes “The Kite Runner” is a story that touches every human being.

“It’s a father-son story, a love story, a story of redemption,” he said. “There are 45 million Afghan people in the world; a quarter million in North America. I would love for our theater audiences to realize that Afghans are also human beings. I hope they are able to open their hearts and connect with a potential neighbor who might have arrived from Afghanistan. I hope it will inspire people to have a place in their hearts and minds for the people of Afghanistan.”

Meet the playwright

Playwright Matthew Spangler teaches courses at San Jose State University that focus on the way in which refugees and asylum seekers are represented through the arts. He first read “The Kite Runner” in 2005 and thought it would make a good play. He adapted the novel for the stage in 2006, working with author Khaled Hosseini who lived in the same area of California as he did.

Spangler has been involved with the theatrical production ever since.

“This play is different from other types of plays because I’m not Afghan and I don’t have personal immigration or refugee experience in my own background,” he said. “But many of the actors do, so I change the play text for each production so that the actors feel comfortable and can incorporate their own personal background. It’s important that the cast members feel it represents both the book and their own experiences.”

Spangler sees “The Kite Runner” as a deeply human story told in the context of immigration.



“In our contemporary society, immigration has been politicized which makes it less human,” he said. “This novel and play are about humanizing that experience again.”

The play, he said, is a roller-coaster ride for the audience, both sad and filled with humor.

What Spangler has loved most about working on “The Kite Runner” for the past two decades is the community of people from all over the world who have been involved with the various productions — actors, directors, musicians. They have, he said, become friends.

Dayton connection

One of those friends is actor Annie Pesch, well-known in Dayton theater circles, who appeared in the Midwest premiere of “The Kite Runner ‘’ in a co-production at Actors Theatre in Louisville and the Cleveland Playhouse.

In addition to working with playwright Spangler and musician Nader, Pesch said she learned a lot from the show’s cultural consultant, Humaira Ghilzai, who shared her experiences and information on Afghan culture with the cast. “I particularly remember Humaira talking about the dynamics between husbands and wives in Afghanistan,” Pesch said. " One of the cast members was living in Afghanistan after the Taliban had taken over and shared his experiences growing up in Afghanistan during that time; I still remember his stories when I think about the show.”

Pesch said her run of the show took place around the time of the Arab Spring. “We had a multicultural cast, and we all felt like it was the right time for the play to come out,” she said, adding that working on “The Kite Runner” is still one of the highlights of her career.

“I am thankful I got to work with some amazingly talented people on such a moving piece,” said Pesch. “The play explores topics such as friendship, classism, family, conflicting cultures, betrayal–things that affect all of us. I learned so much performing in the show, not just as an actor but as a person.”

How to go

What: National Tour of “The Kite Runner” presented by The Human Race Theatre Company and Dayton LIve

When: May 28-June 2

Where: Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St., Dayton

Tickets: $25.50-$79.50. Order through Dayton Live Ticket Office, (937) 228-3630.

Note: “The Kite Runner” includes scenes depicting violence and strong language. It is recommended for ages 13 and up.


  • “Talk Back” With Company Members – May 29
  • Afghan Community Celebration – May 31. Members of southwest Ohio’s Afghan community are invited to attend any performance, but especially this Friday performance to experience the Afghans in Dayton exhibit located in the reception room on the third floor/balcony level of the theater. The exhibit honors Afghans in Dayton who live, work and contribute to our community. The display includes historical information, artifacts, and a short film about Afghanistan. It will be open during each performance.
  • Parents’ Day Out – June 1 at 2 p.m. The Human Race Theatre Company is offering a free theater activity workshop for kids 5-12 during the 2 p.m. June 1 performance.
  • Kites of Kindness: A community engagement project with the goal of creating 10,000 messages of hope and support on paper kite templates and displaying them in the Victoria Theatre lobby and other locations in the Dayton.

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