"Bashir Lazhar" (David Adams) on till March 24 at Theatre Projects Manitoba. (Leif Norman)
There are moments of delightful humour in watching Bashir’s clumsy attempts to engage with his unseen students, but also of wrenching drama.
—Joff Schmidt, CBC Reviewer
There's something sadly, terrifyingly beautiful in the set the greets the audience entering Theatre Projects Manitoba's production of Bashir Lazhar.
A twisted wreck of school desks, bright orange plastic chairs, and the remnants of window frames, it's a scene that implies something unthinkable has happened - and yet also suggests the innocence and possibility of childhood.
And this is an apt metaphor for Quebecoise playwright Evelyne de la Chenelière's one-man play (which inspired the Oscar-nominated film Monsieur Lazhar). It is full of sadness, humour, and hope, in a mixture that flows from horrifying to hopeful. And here, it makes for a rich, emotionally rewarding theatrical experience.
The play centres on the title character (a masterful solo performance by David Adams), an Algerian refugee who becomes the substitute teacher to a sixth-grade class shaken by a tragedy at the school.
From the start, though, we see that Bashir is well-intentioned, but ill-suited to the job. De la Chenelière introduces him to us as he rehearses his greeting to the class, unsure of who he should be - a friend? A disciplinarian? A dispassionate sage? Bashir seems certain only that he needs to teach - and as his own tragic backstory unfolds, we begin to understand why.