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Raoul Bhaneja delivers an authoritative performance in solo show.
BASHIR LAZHAR by Evelyne de la Chene lière, directed by Jennifer Tarver (Tarragon, 35 Bridgman). To December 7. $10-$38. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNN
It's the wise teacher who learns from his students, and sometimes the education is a surprise.
That's what happens to the title figure in Bashir Lazhar, an Algerian who's come to Canada as a political refugee. As a substitute in a Grade 6 class following a schoolroom tragedy, Bashir floats between past and present while attempting to come to terms with his own troubled past.
Despite the serious themes underlying the script, playwright Evelyne de la Chenelière (in Morwyn Brebner's colloquial, imagistic translation) injects a startling amount of humour into the 75-minute solo show. Under Jennifer Tarver's nuanced direction, actor Raoul Bhaneja believably conveys not only Bashir's history but also the ache that motivates his actions in and out of the classroom.
A stickler for organization and a believer in the importance of such traditional classroom concerns as grammar and math, Bashir reveals a poetic side when his own memories bleed into his teaching day, providing glimpses of a side of the man that contrasts with the disciplinarian most others see.
Camellia Koo's magical set, moving from the real to the surreal, and Rebecca Picherack's evocative lighting give a strong sense of Bashir's two worlds.
Yet the play never snowballs into a moving experience. Individual parts are often strong, but the discussion of life's unfairness - central to Bashir and his students and at the heart of the script - has a vagueness that limits the emotional involvement we should feel with pupils and teacher.