Saturday August 4, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- The structure that gives Rajiv Joseph's muddled, overstuffed play, "The North Pool," its title is a bomb shelter deep in the bowels of a 3,000 student public high school, built in the 1950s as part of a system of tunnels, the entrances to which have long since been sealed

Now, more than five decades later, Sheffield High School is under seige from vandals, or, perhaps, one lone figure, who have inflicted serious damage.

You wouldn't know that, however, from the limited view of the school hallway through the window of Vice-Principal Dr. Danielson's office (meticulously designed by Brian Prather for the meticulously acted and directed production of "The North Pool" at Barrington Stage Company's St. Germain Stage).

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That the damage remains just out of sight is emblematic of a play in which truth is buried beneath layers of lies and secrets, all of which will come undone by the time Danielson (convincingly played by Remi Sandri) is done with his involuntary visitor, Khadim (Babak Tafti in an equally persuasive performance), a well-educated, well-traveled, Syrian-born 18-year-old student who has transferred to Sheffield High School from a considerably smaller, prestigious, exclusive private school.

Khadim has been called to Danielson's office ostensibly to serve an hour's worth of detention for having walked out of school during a last-period fire drill.


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But as Danielson begins questioning Khadim, drilling him, using his position and authority to undermine Khadim's well-developed defense mechanisms as he does, it is clear that Danielson is after something else -- the truth, it turns out, about the circumstances surrounding the suicide of a female student.

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The two go back and forth in a cat-and-mouse game. Their roles continually turn and turn again as Danielson exposes one lie after another about Khadim's past while Khadim exposes and manipulates Danielson's own weaknesses.

Joseph is an interesting playwright. He doesn't want for ideas and invention. But "The North Pool" chokes on its overstock of red herring and buckles under the weight of its excess of invention and ideas; collapsing in the end more out of exhaustion than meaningful dramatic resolution.