In the program notes from “Dai,” playwright Iris Bahr admits she’s not very fond of discussing politics, a messy business where, she perceives, “food is flung and historical facts are tossed about like ego-filled ‘I’m right!’ confetti.” Writing and performing a one woman show about the bombing of a café in Tel Aviv without pushing the politics may be an extraordinary feat in and of itself; Bahr’s tour-de-force production goes beyond this restraint to display in all its pain and humor the “splintered Israeli psyche” she clearly knows so well.
“Dai” (“Enough”) makes you laugh, cry and, quite possibly, come close to a panic attack, and in that way Bahr recreates an Israel that the audience not only watches, but experiences viscerally. It’s a strange and disquieting play. Each of Bahr’s many successive characters, in an imagined interview with a British reporter (a hilarious Christiane Amanpour send-up), opens up and becomes an intimate of the audience, only to have the play’s signature disruption cut them off. Normally, knowing that a bomb will go off would ruin a suspenseful play, but in “Dai,” the effect is quite the contrary. Audience members brace themselves against what they know is coming, but to no avail: Bahr’s characters, warm and funny people from all walks of Israeli life, are so engaging and real that one becomes too involved with their stories. The explosion is ahorrible surprise, every time, and yet the sense of dread doesn’t let up for a moment. It is, in fact, as close to an authentic Israeli experience as many Americans may ever get.
Iris Bahr’s own biography is full of surprising twisting turns that perhaps explain how she can embody so many diverse characters so convincingly. Having cycled through Orthodox schooling in the Bronx and a secular Israeli life, army service in military intelligence, a degree in neuropsychology and a stint on TV’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” she is excellently suited to create and enact a cast of characters who embody the more sublime idiosyncrasies of Israeli society, as well as its outright hilarity. From the lonely American soldier who’s teased by her Israeli compatriots, to the wealthy expat living in New York who’s back in Tel Aviv for a visit, to a lovelorn German student, to a lyrically philosophical Palestinian professor, Bahr nails each character in turn, displaying not only an uncanny variety of accents but also the ability to make each character vitally authentic.
After two successful off-Broadway runs and a special showing at the United Nations, “Dai” will play at the renowned Theater J at the DC JCC in early 2009, with talk of a future movie. This haunting solo work remains one of the most sophisticated, finely wrought, devastating plays on the situation that just won’t go away.