‘Dai’: A Jolting Character Study of Israeli Society
By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 16, 2009; C02
Every story ends in mid-sentence in Iris Bahr’s intermittently effective solo piece, “Dai.” Several times in the hour-long work, an audience is jolted out of complacency by seat-rattling sound effects — the noise of the suicide bomb that tears through a Tel Aviv cafe and terminates a reporter’s inquiries.
One by one, the denizens of the cafe are prodded by a TV correspondent to open up about themselves, about what they’re doing in a place that “lives and breathes existential threat” and how they feel about the daily dance on the fraying tightrope of Israeli life. We’re reminded frequently in the Theater J presentation that the tripwire for tragedy is a routine apparatus in this part of the world.
Bahr, who was born in the Bronx and moved to Israel as a 12-year-old, spends just enough time portraying each of the 10 cafe habitues for us to become comfortable with the characters, to glean an essence of who he or she is. And then: Ka-boom! Over and over, we relive the moment that wipes them all out. The actress, embodying her characters in an upstairs space at Studio Theatre that has been rented for the five-day run, wants us to appreciate the complex dynamics of Israeli society even as she dramatizes how that world is being ripped apart, both from inside and out.
Particularly at times of crisis in the Middle East, partisan impulses call for each side to brand its adherents the victims. While Bahr’s sympathies are primarily with Israelis on this occasion — the reporter, for instance, declares that her intention is to “explore the Israeli plight” — “Dai” is not so much political as sociological. As in the case of Anna Deavere Smith, whose one-woman shows examine conflict through a gallery of impersonations, Bahr uses a talent for mimicry to channel various points of view.
“Dai,” the Hebrew word for “enough,” benefits from Bahr’s gifts of observation, especially when her characters are trying to distill for the reporter’s camera some peculiar aspect of Israeli behavior. A prostitute who has emigrated from Russia, for example, talks about the special intensity of Israeli lovemaking; a flower child describes, without a trace of irony, smuggling the drug ecstasy into Israel through the tunnels between Egypt and Gaza; an expatriate home for a visit explains why living in Israel brings on claustrophobia: “It’s like everyone,” she says, “is in your veins.”
The portraits, however, are much stronger than the frame. The process of introducing and dispatching each of the characters in exactly the same way grows a tad monotonous. Not to make too fine a point of narrative logic, but how is it that the exact moment of each interview being cut short is captured, if the bomb is killing everyone simultaneously?
Bahr, too, has a tendency to want to get words out so quickly that phrases are strangled in her throat; there’s something about straining to understand an actor who is not consistently intelligible that works like a sedative.
Of course, you’re slapped back to attention at regular intervals of “Dai,” as the theater speakers reverberate with the gruesome soundscape of sudden death.
Dai, by Iris Bahr. Original production directed by Will Pomerantz. Lighting, Garth Dolan; sound, Frank Gaeta; sound, Ed Moser. About an hour. Through Sunday at Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW. Visit http://boxofficetickets.com or call 800-494-8497.