BWW Reviews: Upstream Theater's Remarkable BASHIR LAZHAR
Bashir Lazhar, by Evelyne De La Cheneliere (translated into English by Morwyn Brebner) tells a fascinating story that will surely touch your heart, while making you think as well. Though primarily a one-man show (although there is a cameo appearance), this production benefits, as a lot of Upstream Theater shows have previously, from the presence of musician Farshid Soltanshahi. The combination of sensitive direction, an excellent portrayal, and an underscoring that communicates the mood and atmosphere of each scene, provideS the audience with a full sensory experience that has an almost cinematic, and I mean that in the best possible way, quality. This presentation is not to be missed; it's simply superlative theater, from a company that always gives its audience an entertaining and enlightening experience time after time.
Bashir Lazhar is essentially a refugee, although the Canadian government doesn't seem to think so, from his native Algeria. He is also the sole survivor of an incident that killed the rest of family, including his wife and children. Stranded, but bright and remarkably determined, he applies for work as a substitute school teacher after he reads in the paper that a teacher has committed suicide. He throws himself headfirst into trying to teach his young charges, while dealing with the stress they've been left with after having witnessed the act of their former instructor.
J. Samuels Davis delivers another in a series of amazing performances, particularly for this troupe. He absolutely shines as Lazhar, ingratiating himself in a way that makes you care at the deepest level for the pain he's had to endure, as well as for the task he's endeavored to tackle. He's continually acting and reacting to people that, though we may not actually see, are conjured up in our imagination by his considerable skills.
The action shifts between different times in his recent past, and the events that have led him to this place in his life, but mostly focuses on his time spent as a teacher. Aliyah Taliaferro, Eden Harris, and Avery Smith appear as a little girl (the role rotates for the run) who's meant to represent one of Lazhar's more special students. It's a bit superfluous, but it does make for a rather poignant moment.
Philip Boehm's direction brings this material to life in a decidedly vibrant and memorable manner, especially with the strong work of Davis, as well as Soltanshahi's sharp musical contributions. He's aided by a simple but evocative set from Cristie Johnson that's brilliantly lit by Steve Carmichael. Claudia Horn adds the effective props, and Michele Friedman Siler handles the perfectly suitable wardrobe.
Upstream Theater's Bashir Lazhar is a stunner that truly deserves your time and attention. Go see it through February 15, 2015 at the Kranzberg Arts Center. You won't regret it.
Photo Credit: Peter Wochniak