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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
The North Pool

"Nobody's contained by a file, isn't that right? .Nobody's contained by a rumor. Or a census, or an evaluation or diagnosis. . .anything when you think about it. And if that's so, then all we really have left is perceptions, isn't it? Perception becomes reality. The onion is still the onion, no mattr how many layers you peel off. Even if there is so much underneath."— Danielson.
North Pool
Babak Tafti and Remi Sandri
( Photo by Kevin Sprague<)
Rajiv Joseph has borrowed Agatha Christie's favorite device, planting clues and red herrings to keep her readers reading. The Miss Marple of Joseph's The North Pool, now having its Northeast premiere at Barrington Stage's St. Germain Theater, is Dr. Danielson, the Vice-principal of a large high school anywhere in the USA. The mystery he is trying to unravel involves Khadim, a Middle Eastern born student who transferred from a small, elite private school to the large public school where Danielson sees his job as that of a shepherd protecting his sheep from wolves.

It doesn't take more than a few minutes into Joseph's psychological mystery to realize that Khadim's failure to return to class after a fire drill is just an excuse for Danielson to summon him to his office for detention. He's out to investigate other, more deeply troubling issues. As Danielson is cast as the investigator so Khadim is the metaphoric onion whose layers are stripped away clue after increasingly fraught with danger clue. But hold on. This isn't a Christie cozie but a new young playwright with a growing reputation for bring a fresh voice to life's problems. And so, Danielson turns out to be as much a part of the clues and red herring setup as the student he seems to suspect of being a wolf among his sheep.

The way this scenario plays with the audience's perception of the characters and what starts as a seemingly ordinary situation makes for an attention holding and suspenseful drama. However, to really get into this emotionally and politically charged cat and mouse game, you need to park your disbelief at the possibility of an interchange like that between this play's two characters actually taking place before you enter the theater. The same goes for the pile up of revelations and the almost too neat way they bring in numerous social issues.

Though the overly extraordinary, colorful and excessive surprises that Mr. Joseph has worked into the layers of his dramatic onion tend to obscure the more serious undercurrents that add topicality to the Christie-like thriller. The North Pool is nevertheless an intense, very watchable addition to a resume that already includes a Pulitzer Prize runner-up (Bengal Tiger in the Baghdad Zoo). If there's a common thread to the four Joseph plays I've now seen, it's that each reflects the original voice of a gifted and thoughtful writer, one who doesn't allow himself to fall into a comfortable niche.

Like its predecessors, The North Pool is also a gift for actors. The title role of Bengal Tiger in th Baghdad Zoo brought Robin Williams to Broadway, but was also a showcase for its ensemble. Remi Sandri and Babak Tafti turn the roles of the Vice-Principal and the Syrian born, multi-lingual rich kid into a double tour-de-force.

Sandri who also played Danielson in the West Coast premiere has the more emotionally showy role. However, Tafti is terrific at letting us see the discomfort and suspicion beneath the initially uncommunicative Khadim, then letting anger burst to the surface. Both actors must do a complete emotional turnaround during the final 15 minutes when the last skeleton has been pulled from Danielson's files and notes and Khadim's locker and the hostile cat and mouse game ends with both the older and younger man face to face with the tragedy that is the real trigger for this principal-student confrontation.

Director Giovanna Sardelli has been with this production since its debut by Theatre Works in Palo Alto and will be at the helm again when it lands at New York's most prestigious Off-Broadway theaters, the Vineyard, next fall. While no announcements have been made about cast or designers, the Vineyard could do a lot worse than the Barrington Stage actors or Brian Prather's authentic recreation of a big school executive's office with glimpses of the locker lined hallways.

Below are links to the three Rajiv Joseph plays we've reviewed, the most recent aeen just a few weeks ago here in the Berkshires.
Animals Out of Paper
Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
Gruesome Playground Injuries
The North Pool by Rajiv Joseph
Directed by Giovanna Sardelli
Cast: Remi Sandri (Vice Principal Danielson),Babak Tafti (Khadim)
Sets: Brian Prather
Lights: Clifton Taylor
Costumes: Amy Clark
Sound: Daniel Kluger
Stage Manager: Zach Chandler
Running Time: Approximately 80 minutes without intermission
Barrington Stage Company, St. Germain Stage 36 Linden Street, Pittsfield.
From July 26 – August 11; opening July 29
Tuesday-Friday at 7:30pm, Thursday at 3pm (excluding July 26), Saturday at 4pm and 8pm, Sunday at 3pm. Additional performance on Sunday, August 5 at 7:30pm.
Tickets are $15-$39; with preview prices of $15 on July 26 & 27. Seniors: $28 all matinees. Youth 18 and under $15 all performances except Saturday evenings.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at July 29th prss preview
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