Gabe Scott in Bashir Lazhar.
Photo courtesy of Teatro Tercera Llamada.
By Evelyne de la Chenelière
Spanish translation by Boris Schoemann
Directed by Kathi E. B. Ellis
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2016 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
The subject of immigration fits the social and political mind of Teatro Tercera Llamda as a company, so the embrace of Bashir Lazhar, a rare production of theirs that does not spring from a Spanish-speaking author, makes sense.
The character is an Algerian émigré to Canada, a Muslim who finds himself a stranger in a strange land. The play is framed as Lazhar (Gabe Scott) entering into a classroom as a substitute teacher, establishing a lightly comic tone as he struggles to overcome nerves and get a foothold on his new position. But it is shortly revealed that Lazhar is replacing a teacher who committed suicide, and that his own tragic history allows a bond with the children’s grief and trauma: his wife was killed, caught in the political conflict of Algeria.
Bashir Lazhar strives to realize a blend of political tract and personal narrative, and for the most part, succeeds beautifully in filtering history through the character’s perspective. It’s a subtle text that slowly reveals Lazhar’s story through flashback.
That a French-language play about an Algerian Muslim living in Canada is here translated into Spanish adds yet another layer to an already complex exploration of identity and cultural disorientation. For this reviewer, experiencing the play through one more level of remove with English supertitles (flawlessly executed by Roxell Karr), it felt like one remove too many, and the distance was difficult to overcome. The challenge of connecting emotionally made it difficult to gauge this production, as it perhaps deserves. I feel certain that some of the nuance of the text may have escaped me, and I wish I had been able to turn my attention away from the supertitles and more to Mr. Scott’s performance, which seemed to be constructed of well-observed detail and emotional sense. But the language is everything in this play, and there is no action outside of the speech.
There was apparently no such problem for Spanish speakers in the audience, who responded warmly to the work onstage. There is no doubt that the play is an opportunity for a bravura turn for an actor, and Mr. Scott’s understated approach emphasized the intimacy of the material, he and director Kathi E. B. Ellis choosing hushed tones for significant emotional moments that could just as easily be rendered with histrionics.
There is also some judicious use of live cello in an original score composed by Jon Silpayamanant, which, in the performance I attended, was also played by him (some performances will feature cellist Chelsea Getty). It reinforced the low-key tone of the production, introducing an accentuating energy that seemed important to the play’s impact.
With Bashir Lazhar, Teatro Tercera Llamda reminds us of their commitment to theatre that speaks to the concerns and challenges of a multi-cultural world in turmoil.
June 23, 24, 25, 26, 30, July 1 & 2, 2016
Teatro Tercera Llamada
The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.