Sunday, February 8, 2015

BASHIR LAZHAR • Upstream Theater

Évelyne de la Chenelière's "Bashir Lazhar" is the story of a French-Algerian political refugee living in Montreal. This play, essentially a monologue, was beefed up and adapted into a film in 2011 and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. The stage play is an intimate affair, performed small-scale with a sparse set at the Kranzberg's black box, but J. Samuel Davis breathes a world of life into the character of Bashir Lazhar -- this immigrant trying to navigate his surroundings in the wake of a civil war, in a superb solo performance full of resilience, heartache and humor.

The play opens with Bashir nervously preparing to greet his classroom of sixth graders. The students have tragically lost their previous teacher, Martine Lachance, and Bashir has taken the job as her substitute. He's got a way with his students -- encouraging but tough, trying to help them cope with the loss of Lachance, and prepare them for the world and the violence within it, because he, along with his students, have been through harrowing times. His story unfolds slowly through a series of scenes that jump back and forth in time. Bashir bonds with the kids, talks to colleagues, breaks the school regulations with his unorthodox teaching style, and has mournful conversations with himself and flashback conversations with his family as they try to escape the Algerian Civil War.

J. Samuel Davis (Bashir Lazhar)
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak
Playwright de la Chenelière's script is full of lyrical passages and revelations that dole out the story bit by bit, but can be tough to put together until later in the play. Under Philip Boehm's direction, Davis carries us through the eighty or so minutes with an impressive range, keeping our attention throughout and stringing together his scenes with heartfelt emotion. Cristie Johnston's scenic design includes a couple of pieces of furniture and a locker, with lighting design by Steve Carmichael, and Farshid Soltanshahi's music that guides us through changes in place and time.

J. Samuel Davis (Bashir Lazhar)
Photo credit: Peter Wochniak
This local premiere, well worth checking out, is at the Kranzberg until the 15th.


Written by Évelyne de la Chenelière, translated by Morwyn Brebner
Directed by Philip Boehm 
Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd.
through February 15 | tickets: $20 - $30
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm

J. Samuel Davis* (Bashir Lazhar), Aliyah Taliaferro - 1/30 - 2/1, Eden Harris - 2/5 - 2/8, Avery Smith - 2/12 - 2/15 (Girl).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic design by Cristie Johnston; costume design by Michele Friedman Siler; lighting design by Steve Carmichael; music by Farshid Soltanshahi; properties design by Claudia Horn; stage manager, Patrick Siler.

1 comment:

  1. Outstanding play. We saw it last night and could not believe that the end had come. We were mesmerized throughout the whole play.