The Plot Thickens


Show #22: The North Pool, TheatreWorks, March 12.

Remi Sandri and Adam Poss in The North Pool. Photo by Mark Kitaoka.

By Sam Hurwitt

There have been a lot of Rajiv Joseph plays around lately, and that’s a good thing. Last year SF Playhouse produced the West Coast premiere of his origami-themed Animals out of Paper and San Jose’s Renegade Theatre Experiment did the same with his tragicomedy All This Intimacy, about a guy who accidentally impregnates three women over the course of a week. And the same week that Joseph’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo went into previews on Broadway starring Robin Williams, TheatreWorks opened the world premiere of The North Pool at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto. A few lucky patrons may have experienced the latter play when it played the company’s 2009 New Works Festival, but anyone who sees the finished piece is in for quite a ride.

TheatreWorks is advertising The North Pool as a “psychological thriller,” which isn’t quite right. The tension in the room isn’t the ticking-time-bomb type of imminent danger, but the play can certainly get you on the edge of your seat as you try to figure out what the ding-dong heck is really going on here. It’s a two-person play in which a public high school vice principal has called a student into his office for a chat after school just as everyone’s taking off for Spring Break. Erik Flatmo’s set provides superb verisimilitude, with a stretch of locker-lined hallway visible in the background, and even a rush of extras opening their lockers when the school bell buzzes.

Making jovial small talk, the vice principal is cagey about what exactly he wants with the student, although whatever their talk is about, it’s clear that it’s not optional. There’s thinly veiled hostility behind Dr. Danielson’s passive aggressive, faux-nonchalant interrogation technique: “Have you done anything lately that would warrant me calling you in for a chat? Why don’t you tell me?” A new student at the school this year, Khadim is a Syrian teenager of Iranian descent whose parents are away on business in Saudia Arabia, a fact Danielson takes a suspicious interest in, so at first it looks like it might be a racial-profiling thing, maybe a terrorism scare, but the truth is much more complicated than that. There’s talk about pranks, locker searches, a recent tragedy—what they’re talking about is slow to emerge (but not too slow, as the show’s only 80 minutes), but the more the picture is filled out the more compelling it becomes.

The tension builds beautifully in Giovanni Sardelli’s staging. The faint sounds of a distant flute become haunting in Daniel Kluger’s sound design as it goes on. Adam Poss creates a nicely credible high schooler as Khadim, easygoing, a little cocky and unusually patient, resigned to let Danielson’s little psychodrama play out so he can finally get out of there. Remi Sandri gives a marvelous, infuriating performance as Danielson—smug, nebbishy, awkward, trying to play good cop one minute and bad cop the next. “I’m not trying to be a tough guy here,” he says, trying to be a tough guy. “I’m just a shepherd—that’s how I like to think of myself—and you are all my sheep.”

In a way it’s a hard play to talk about, because the less you know about it going in, the more effective it is, but at the same time you need to know enough to entice you to see it. The twists and turns of the dialogue upturn expectations over and over again superbly, and the ending is so emotionally affecting that even your curmudgeonly correspondent felt his lip quiver a bit. Like Khadim, it’s best if you just settle in without knowing why exactly and let it all unfold in front of you.

The North Pool plays through April 3 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto.

About author

No comments yet.

Be first to leave your comment!




Your comment:

Add your comment