This may be a week of educational drama, at least on the observational side. On Sunday night, I traveled to TheatreWorks for the closing performance of their new drama THE NORTH POOL, set at a public high school in an unspecified USA town. Then, tonight, I stayed in Marin for a sneak preview screening of TRUST, a new psychological drama film also centered around high school. But this post is about Palo Alto’s THE NORTH POOL (show #19 for this year) and its production.
Other reviews online note that this show was marketed as a “psychological thriller”, and that (plus an AEA comp ticket) was what drew me down Route 101 to see it. I was pleased to make the effort, noticing that it was a character-filled drama with sharp staging and careful attention to detail. Since it was just a two-hander (a play with two actors), I noticed the deck of cards motif where each character seemed to want to top the other, and then topple them down. There were no real winners by the end of the show, although it was implied that the two men had come to a greater level of understanding.
The setting was ripe for conflict, as a passed-over assistant principal asks a new Syrian-born, Iranian native student to stay in his office for detention on the first day of spring break. It soon became clear that each man had something to hide, although the storytelling techniques might have benefited from more subtlety. In addition, the story’s resolution was poignant, but seemed rushed at the same time. The play was just 80 minutes long. I appreciated the taughtness but might have enjoyed some more detail. The notes in the program noted that an earlier version might have included that specificity, as the writer apparently had six characters in the piece for a while – before returning back to just two.
The staging specificity and level of set detail was admirable. I especially appreciated that the set designer took the care to include a long row of generic school lockers (which became an important plot point) visible beyond the main characters. The director also somehow arranged for several extras in the show to appear as fellow students for a brief early scene, even though none of them had dialogue.
TheatreWorks’ artistic director Robert Kelley was visible in the audience as I left, clearly in approval of this work and its culmination. Kelley is a devoted leader of the organization, having (amazingly) been the AD since the company was founded in 1970. I am impressed with the consistency and integrity of their work, where diversity, production values, and variety are clearly integral components of strong theatre works.