Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Well performed “The North Pool” at Ensemble

Is Khadim Asmaan a terrorist?  Is he selling drugs at his public high school?  Is he responsible for the suicide of a talented flutist?  Why was the boy expelled from a private school?  Is he responsible for the on-going vandalism at this institution?  Why is he friends with a noted school delinquent?  What is he planning on doing with the items that have been found in his locker?  Why are his parents visiting Saudi Arabia? 

These are some of the questions raised by Pulitzer Prize finalist and Cleveland Heights native Rajiv Joseph in his “The North Pool.” 

Joseph has authored such plays as “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” which starred the late Robin Williams on Broadway, “Huck and Holden,” “Animals Out of Paper,” “Gruesome Playground Injuries” and “Guards at the Taj,” many of which have been staged at Ensemble.

The setting is the office of Assistant Principal, Dr. Danielson, at Sheffield High, a public school in what appears to be a fairly typical suburban area.   It’s the afternoon of the start of spring vacation.  Khadim has been called in to discuss the details of his past and present, which appears to include his operating an underground business of selling various merchandise and what could be bomb making materials found in his locker, and also the suicide of a female friend.

The conversation includes twists and turns that reveal a great deal about both Danielson and the Arabic student as the participants unload material about each other.  In the process it is revealed that there are a series of passages, which were built into the school during the cold war era, that contain a shelter called “the North Pool” which was to protect the school community in case of a nuclear attack.

Though often compelling and disturbing, the intended impact of the script is somewhat vague.  After a while the question, “Where is this going?” rears its head.  What is the author trying to say?  What are we to carry from the experience?  Yes, racial profiling, sexual discretion, dealing with the aftermath of suicide, and school terrorism are all brought up, but for what purpose?

The one-and-a-half-hour Ensemble production, done without an intermission, under the competent direction of Celeste Cosentino, is well developed. 

David Vegh is focused and nicely textures the role of Dr. Danielson. 

Though he looks too old to be playing a high school student, and doesn’t fit the physical description of a cross-country runner (changing the sport to football or rugby would have been more appropriate), Santino Montanez is convincing as Khadim.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT:  While the production is well-conceived and holds attention, “The North Pool” is somewhat unsatisfying as a thoughtful piece of play crafting.  The script leaves us wanting more, a clearer message to carry from the theatre.

“The North Pool” runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 pm and Saturdays @ 2 pm and Sundays @ 2 pm through May 21, 2017 at Ensemble Theatre, housed in the former Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to http://www.ensemble-theatre.org