I’ve seen a lot of shows in 2014. Over forty, so far, and I feel like I’m just getting started. But from top to bottom, THE NORTH POOL might just be the best play I’ll see all year long. It’s certainly well written; I was on the edge of my seat. I laughed, I was annoyed, and I cried. What an intriguing and surprising story . . . and what an amazing journey the actors, director, and playwright, Rajiv Joseph, craft for 90 minutes of nearly non-stop mystery.
I won’t spoil any of the play for you, but here’s the setup so you can wet your whistle. Khadim Asmaan is an 18 year old high school student who’s been called into Vice Principal Danielson’s office the last bell of the day before spring break. Why? Only Danielson knows and as the multi-layered story develops, we twist and turn along with both characters in unpredictable ways that had me on the edge of my seat.
Eli Gelb plays Khadim and he has a palpable energy about him. There’s something unspeakably dangerous about Khadim, it seems, and its not his Middle Eastern heritage. Gelb picks his spots; Khadim does a lot of “what” and “huh” as many teenagers do when they don’t wish to engage with authority figures – it isn’t until the momentum gets moving that he gets to emote. When he does, though, I melted.
Ted Deasy takes Dr. Danielsen right to the limits of caricature without going too broad. I have known administrators like him; by-the-book but hasn’t forgotten why he chose education in the first place. He genuinely cares about his students and his school and you can’t help but to root for him even if you don’t want to. His choices were excellent and his controlled rage is palpable. Deasy is brilliant, really.
Some would say with a script this powerful and actors this good the director’s job must be easy. And perhaps it was, but the effort Timothy Douglas put forth in maintaining minimalism – with his blocking, his pacing of the show – is absolutely perfect. You get the sense that he knows this is a masterpiece and he’s smart enough to keep focus squarely on the story with no frills. That’s not to say that the lighting or sound elements or costumes weren’t important. The lighting, with very subtle touches, kept the focus on the actors but also set a mood with stark fluorescents that soften when the mood changed. It was brilliant because I doubt many even noticed it. Catherine Girardi probably won’t get the recognition she deserves, but I appreciate what she’s done here. I also like Matthew Nieson’s composition, as it was minimal but it worked well. All the tech, as is customary at the Playhouse, was exactly what it needed to be.
Its hard to write a review about a show that is so mysterious. The highest praise I can give anything I see is that it inspired me in some way. Watching this amazingly crafted play caused me to want to rush home and get back to work on my own writing projects. So, you’ll just have to trust me that its worth your time and money to go see THE NORTH POOL. It is not to be missed.
THE NORTH POOL runs through June 1st in the Thompson Shelterhouse at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. I have rated it as not to be missed, which makes two shows this week (the very different SIZE MATTERS at the Ensemble is the other). You can get tickets and get more information about THE NORTH POOL by clicking here.