Rajiv Joseph, surely one of the most prolific young American playwrights being produced today, is currently represented at the Barrington Stage second space, the St. Germain Stage, with “The North Pool”, a two-hander featuring Remi Sandri and Babak Tafti. The play, set in the office of a secondary school vice-principal (Sandri), is a bit of a cat-and-mouse game between the administrator and the student (Tafti) who has been summoned.
The play begins just as students in a public school are being dismissed for Spring Break. Khadim, a newly arrived student, has been called down to the vice-principal’s office, where the action takes on the look and feel of a sparring match. The V.P. asks a battery of questions, both pointed and innocuous, and the young man on the receiving end responds with caution that is, soon enough, replaced with cool disdain and unapologetic contempt.
“The North Pool” threatens to reveal itself many times during the play’s 90 minutes, but it changes directions repeatedly and, as it does, confuses and diminishes audience involvement. Joseph takes his time – and I would say that he takes too long – to establish both the characters and the issues at-hand. Too much of the V.P.’s conversation insinuates that he is after crucial information from Khadim, information related to an unspoken event of weight and purpose. Why else would a student be questioned for as long as he is on the day that a school holiday has begun? The premise reveals itself as a playwright’s tool and the characters as mouthpieces.
The set, nicely realized by Brian Prather, sets the men against each other, and Giovanna Sardelli, who has directed, finds sufficient physical variety to keep the pace moving forward and to avoid the monotony of the appropriately drab environment. Sandri begins by over-pitching his delivery, insisting on creating tension rather than drawing us in, as the character draws in his student. Once established, he finds nuance and varied rhythms to add colour to an essentially one-note character. Tafti, as the student, is convincingly diffident and opaque at the start, but he lacks the technique demanded of later scenes where his shouting leaves the actor hoarse and the interaction between him and his antagonist strained beyond truth.
Rajiv Joseph is writing about a number of things, and his most telling moments are those that we cannot anticipate – that the student is a certain kind of entrepreneur is a prime example – but too much is left unspoken, unexplained and undeveloped.
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