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A CurtainUpBerkshire Review
Bashir Lazhar

" Be forever and ever shouting out new and original thoughts. . .Let them come and go like a helium balloon that gets caught in the branches of a tree then drifts off without consequence. "
Juri Henley-Cohn
(Photo: Scott Barrow)

Bashir Lazhar (Juri Henley-Cohn) practices his opening lines preparing for the first day as a substitute teacher. The audience is amused and charmed as he is, in turn, ingratiating, friendly and bumbling. We sense his unease as he tries on and abandons each approach for what must be the anticipation of a very difficult first impression on a class of traumatized sixth graders.

Bashir and his students' back stories weave seamlessly through time at The Barrington Stage St. Germain Theatre's dynamic and satisfying production of Bashir Lazhar by Evelyne de la Cheneliere. Her witty and profound observations of the human condition have a universal and timeless appeal.

As a recent Algerian-born immigrant to Canada, Bashir struggles to understand and adapt to an alien culture. The melancholic tension and confusion of an outsider as both an immigrant and substitute teacher evoke our sympathy. We are inexorably drawn into this eighty-minute lyrical examination of the human heart and frailty as Henley-Cohn moves us from the horrors of the 1998 Algerian Civil War to the sweetness of children at play with an uncanny and prescient shape-shifting.

Performed on a deceptively uncomplicated but versatile set by Brett J. Banakis, Juri Henley-Cohn, imbues Bashar's plight with vivid poignancy. This riveting piece of drama explores loss and the challenge to persist in the face of personal tragedy and multicultural misunderstanding. We can imagine every conversation with Bashir's students, principal, colleague, and family in different locations through the ability of one actor and agility of one set.

Shakina Nayfack's confident and sensitive direction, Robert Brown's finely nuanced lighting and Anthony Mettana's original and elegiac music underscore this haunting story about a good man's attempt to make sense of his anguished past in a precarious present.

This Canadian play was the basis for an 84th Academy Award-nominated movie, Monsieur Lazhar. It is the utter purity and poetry of this play that will linger long after the performance.

Bashir Lahzar By Evelyne de la Cheneliere
Translated by Merwyn Brebner
Directed by Shakina Nayfack
Cast: Juri Henley-Cohn (Bashir Lazhar)
Set and Costume Design: Brett J. Banakis
Lighting Design: Robert Brown
Original Score and Sound Design: Anthony Mattana
Running Time: 1 hour 20 minutes; no intermission
Barrington Stage Company's St Germain Theatre, 36 Linden St., Pittsfield, MA (413) 236-8888
Tickets start at $40
Performances: Tuesday through Saturday 7:30; Saturday at 4:00; Sunday at 3:00; added matinee June 6 at 4:00
From 05/22/13 Opened 05/26/13 Ends 06/08/13
Review by Gloria Miller based on performance 05/26/13
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