BY JOHN FLEMING
Times Performing Arts Critic
It's not unusual for a bestselling book like The Kite Runner to be adapted for the stage, and there is such a version with a full cast of characters. And then there was the 2007 movie made from Khaled Hosseini's novel about the friendship of two boys in Afghanistan.
But the touring production of The Kite Runner playing the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center this weekend is something else. Produced by the American Place Theatre as part of its Literature to Life program, it's a dramatic interpretation of sections of the novel, performed by a single actor.
"We don't invent new scenes or anything like that. We certainly do pick and choose among the scenes in the book. It's memorized and performed verbatim,'' said David Kener, executive director of the theater in New York.
In its paperback edition, The Kite Runner is 371 pages. The Literature to Life script is a fraction of that length, and the performance by Sorab Wadia runs about an hour.
"You can't do the whole book,'' Kener said. "You have to find what your narrative through-line is. It's a very actor-centered idea, because the actor has to play so many characters. There's very little set, maybe a stool. There's very little music. It's this fully realized one-person performance that transports you.''
The Kite Runner is one of about 15 books to be adapted in this fashion, mostly by Wynn Handman, the director and acting teacher who cofounded American Place in 1963. The company has an illustrious history — Sam Shepard, Maria Irene Fornes and Steve Tesich are among the playwrights whose work was fostered there; and Handman's students constitute a hall of fame of American actors, from Alec Baldwin to Joanne Woodward — but it stopped doing stage shows several years ago.
The Literature to Life program started with an adaptation of The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, and the active roster now has nine productions, including The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien, Black Boy by Richard Wright, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd and Flight by Sherman Alexie. The newest production is Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
The program is geared to young audiences. "High schools, colleges, sometimes middle schools, that's our core audience,'' Kener said. "While the performances all would live on any stage for adults, we feel that the thing we're supposed to be doing is to activate young people to want to read.''
Kener and others on the American Place staff read many books in search of those that lend themselves to adaptation. "If you look at a lot of these selections, they're about a young person trying to get out of their circumstances, and what the tools are that help them to do that,'' he said. "There's a journey that needs to be taken. I think that translates into trying to give young people the gift of believing in themselves.''
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716.