Oct 26

Bashir Lazhar is a complex tale of struggle.

by Jenna Shummoogum · 0 comments

Post image for Bashir Lazhar is a complex tale of struggle.

‘The circumstances that allow me to be here still weigh heavily.’

This quote from Bashir Lazhar illustrates the premise of Downstage Theatre’s newest play. It is a story of loss and finding the courage through teaching to continue. It is about freedom, justice and the pain that holds us back. It’s about being a stranger in a new land all the while blending all elements of theatre to tell a very human story of struggle.

The play opens to two characters standing in the middle of the stage with a blue scarf hanging between them. The sound design crackles, and she grabs the scarf. We then cut to a great scene of Bashir Lazhar (Haysam Kadri) practicing how he is going to introduce himself to his students. He tries on stern, friendly, professional, amongst many others. We then flash to a scene in which Bashir is yelling into his cell phone. The play reveals that it is playing with time and the deliberate cracks in information in the narrative begins to fill.

We learn that Bashir emigrated from Algeria, leaving his family behind. He got the job teaching french to 6th grade students in Quebec. We are guided through the story, the narrative slowly revealing Bashir’s past. The story tells of his teaching methods for his students, his interactions with his colleague and how he strives to continue living his live by being close to the gentle souls of children. Bashir Lazhar is a play that weaves themes of education, courage, justice and tragedy into the narrative.

Bashir Lazhar is primarily a one man show but features a mostly silent shadow character played by Lara Schmitz. When Bashir is teaching, she is in a desk amongst the audience. She draws on the chalkboard between scenes and floats in a role as Bashir’s wife and daughter and sometimes, his quiet shadow. So he is not quite so alone on stage.

Direction by Simon Mallett is something to behold in this production. By his hand, the scenes flow together smoothly, held together by Petter Moller’s sound design, in the small space of the Motel Theatre. Mallet’s direction has Kadri writing on the chalk board in French, illustrating how he is teaching in French, while the play is in English. There is a moment of irony when Bashir says, ‘I don’t speak English.’ Moller’s music indicates scene changes and adds poignancy to the play. The characters throw papers amongst the audience who are seated in a semi circle around the stage, chalkboards lining the back. Anton de Groot’s production design is clever, his lighting design drawing your eye to the different roles that Schmitz plays.

Kadri is a star in this narrative. He is emotive in the simplest of glances and gestures. He is able to carry the character and his performance throws you into the complete tragedy and pain of Bashir. He is a talented actor and even his mustache can’t detract from his performance. Schmitz’s performance adds a complex layer to the production and her voice echoing in the small theatre is a little bit of shock because she is so silent throughout the play. She does a good job conveying the emotion of the narrative without using words.

Bashir Lazhar is a play that incorporates multiple themes and multiple story lines. It is a narrative that features a complexity that is true to life, with a character who is well developed and just wants to get through his grief. It is a poignant story that illustrates the courage it takes to get through the challenges that life throws at us.

Bashir Lazhar runs until November 3rd. Tickets and more information is available online.
(Four and a half stars out of five)

Photo credit: Citrus Photography

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