The North Pool Review - An Insightful New Play

 

(left to right) Salar Ardebili and Rob Frankel in Interrobang Theatre Project’s Midwest premiere of THE NORTH POOL by Rajiv Joseph, directed by Co-Artistic Director James Yost

 

Interrobang Theatre Project closes its 2015-2016 season with the Midwest premiere of The North Pool by Rajiv Joseph. Featuring a cast of two, this contemporary tale begins with the arrival of high school senior Khadim in the vice principal’s office the day before spring break. What begins as a simple detention evolves into something much more substantial as the pair slowly unravel the truth about the circumstances that brought Khadim into Dr. Danielson’s office. Funny, shocking, and truthful in turn, this new one-act by a celebrated playwright takes a complex look at privilege and the nature of guilt.

 

(left to right) Salar Ardebili and Rob Frankel in Interrobang Theatre Project’s Midwest premiere of THE NORTH POOL by Rajiv Joseph, directed by Co-Artistic Director James Yost

 

The story’s setup seems to be a simple one; Dr. Danielson’s claims that Khadim has been called in for detention as a result of an unexcused absence form what is clearly a weak excuse for detaining a Syrian American student. Choosing sides seems simple as well; in a struggle between a young man of color and a much older white man in a position of power, my support is immediately on the side of the younger man. But as the story unfolds, both Dr. Danielson and Khadim’s morality is called into question, and while racial tension is absolutely an element of the storytelling, economic class also plays an important role, and the heart of the conflict is revealed to be not Khadim’s ethnicity or his wealth, but the circumstances surrounding the death of a student with whom both characters were close.

 

(left to right) Salar Ardebili and Rob Frankel in Interrobang Theatre Project’s Midwest premiere of THE NORTH POOL by Rajiv Joseph, directed by Co-Artistic Director James Yost

 

In such a compact bit of storytelling (the eighty-minute play runs in real time with the length of Khadim’s visit to the office), choosing the right actors is key, and Interrobang has done just that. Rob Frankel captures the corny, overeager energy of a vice principal with such accuracy as to cause deep secondhand embarrassment on the part of the audience, yet he never lets us forget Dr. Danielson’s exhaustion or the darker elements of his psyche. Salar Ardebili nails the expressive apathy of teenagers, with a masterful command of both his physicality and his subtext as he begins to reveal more of the truth of Khadim’s actions and his personality. The two actors are able to both engage the audience in quiet moments and dial up a scene’s intensity without it becoming overwrought. The polished talent onstage is essential to the success of this production.

 

(left to right) Salar Ardebili and Rob Frankel in Interrobang Theatre Project’s Midwest premiere of THE NORTH POOL by Rajiv Joseph, directed by Co-Artistic Director James Yost

 

Scenic design by Greg Pinsolneault makes excellent use of an intimate performance venue, with an angled set allowing for multiple playing spaces and visibility from all sections of the house. Props by Mealah Heidenreich, including an aged wrestling photo and a working clock, added just the right details to the environment and helped make the story believable. Light design by Rob Stepeck successfully creates moments that are slightly removed from reality.

 

(left to right) Salar Ardebili and Rob Frankel in Interrobang Theatre Project’s Midwest premiere of THE NORTH POOL by Rajiv Joseph, directed by Co-Artistic Director James Yost

 

The North Pool compresses broad themes and complex characters into a short play in a small space. The ever-present sense of tension makes it impossible not to engage with the story, and the narrative that is revealed speaks to some of the deepest parts of the human psyche. Interrobang has truly created something magnificent.

 

(left to right) Salar Ardebili and Rob Frankel in Interrobang Theatre Project’s Midwest premiere of THE NORTH POOL by Rajiv Joseph, directed by Co-Artistic Director James Yost. All photos by Emily Schwartz

 

Ticket Information

Location: The Athenaeum Theatre (Studio 2), 2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago

Dates: Thursday, June 2 – Sunday, June 26, 2016

Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 2 pm & 7:30 pm.

Please note: there will not be a 7:30 pm performance on Sunday, June 26.

Tickets: $24; $17 students (with ID), $14 seniors (65+). Tickets are currently available online, by calling (773) 935-6875, or in person at The Athenaeum Theatre Box Office.

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