Oy Bay!

"My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west." — Yehudah Ha-Levi

Review: Iris Bahr’s “Dai”

Posted by dopaminesurge on January 21, 2008

iris bahr dai

I had the chance to review this performance at the San Francisco JCC on Sunday, January 13th. Also, see the J Weekly’s coverage.

There are 9 harrowing blasts over the course of Iris Bahr’s heart-wrenching one woman show, “Dai”. True to the reality of the terror attacks that Bahr so shockingly portrays, every successive one manages to shake the audience to its core. It just never gets easier.

In a clever premise that allows Bahr to speak in English for the majority of her performance, the show begins with a British CNN correspondent preparing to tape a piece on the Israeli man and woman in an effort to ease outrage over her recent one-sided reporting. She proceeds to portray 9 patrons of a Tel Aviv Café, each of whom relates a complex monologue before a disastrous explosion occurs. To her credit, the vast majority of Bahr’s show is in English, and thus entirely comprehensible to non-Hebrew speaking audiences; however, certain Hebrew phrases interjected by the characters, while on the phone or when referring to invisible patrons in the café, serve to emphasize characteristics and relationships of the portrayed figures, and enhance the experience of those who understand.

Of the ten characters, notably five are Jewish: a kibbutznik who once served alongside Ariel Sharon, an elitist Israeli expatriate visiting from the Upper West Side, an American right-wing orthodox mother of 7, an Israeli teen hoping to organize a binational ecstasy rave, and a soldier who immigrated from New York after both of her holocaust-survivor parents passed away. The other five characters are not Jewish: the subtly anti-Semitic CNN reporter, an American actress conducting field research for an upcoming role, a German homosexual who followed an Israeli lover to Tel Aviv, a Russian prostitute, and a Palestinian professor. In this respect, Bahr successfully avoids the downfall of a one-sided, biased representation of Israeli life, which would ensure her criticism from broad audiences.

Bahr refrains from excessive sentimentality: with the exception of the final character – the professor – the characters are not overwhelmingly likable. The characters were all at least somewhat flawed: self-centered, arrogant, abrasive or simply irritating. In this way, Bahr also succeeds in refraining from portraying one side as unilaterally righteous. In fact, the performance portrays the Jewish psyche as fragmented and schizophrenic; at one point, the expatriate character claims she left Israel because life is more important to her than death for a cause; at another point, a father asks his younger son how he could even imagine not serving in the IDF after his own older brother had been rendered brain dead while fighting in the IDF to protect his family. Both characters, while diametrically opposed in views, bring forth valid and thought-provoking points. Bahr sometimes lovingly mocks her characters, but never judges or condones them, and always presents their perspectives with respect and absolute conviction.

Each character is portrayed with nuance. The small actress mimics the rough, heavy gestures of a middle-aged man as credibly and meticulously as she does those of an energetic teenaged girl. Her accents, at time comical but always accurate, lend every character a unique personality. In her simple set of café tables and chairs, Bahr relies only on a change of tops or wigs between sequences to transform herself. The effect is efficient and elegant.

In the end, the audience is left shaken and grasping for hope. It never comes directly. On a simple level, every character introduced over the course of the previous hour is presumably hurt or killed by the ensuing explosion. On a deeper level, the only character who spoke with real eloquence and conviction about hope for peace and progress is the one most brutally betrayed and crushed by the attack.

In the end, it is subtleties expressed throughout the play – the irreplaceable nature of family, the importance of Jewish continuity and the warmth of the Israeli population – that provide a message of hope. Bahr never softens the blow, and doesn’t refrain from portraying the ugliness of the situation; but every character also reveals an aspect of Israel that is beautiful, and worth working to preserve. “Dai” – “enough!” expresses the basic message of the play: the time has come to reconcile all of these disparate views. There have been enough senseless deaths on more than one side. But where concrete, tangible hope is to be found, Bahr concedes that she is as lost as anyone.





4 Responses to “Review: Iris Bahr’s “Dai””

  1. Oyster said

    The only Russian character as a prostitute. The only Palestinian as a peacenik. Talk about stereotypes! 🙂

    The more I’m reading about Iris Bahr and this play, the more that I’m upset that I missed it. Learn from my mistake! If she’s in town, check her out. She’s like a hotter & funnier Sarah Silverman. :-p

  2. Oyster said

    Oh, and check out her website: http://www.irisbahr.com

    I guess she does a regular 4-minute schtik on KCRW in LA.

  3. Nancy A. said

    I was fortunate to have seen it. Two thumbs up!

  4. Kneidalach said

    I wish I would see it! Awesome article!

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