Dynamic solo show explores extremism

Black tables and chairs adorned with various articles of clothing and a few coffee mugs are scattered across the stage. The only source of life comes from Iris Bahr, the solo performer who takes on the varied roles of whomever happens to be sitting in a Tel Aviv café one day. Simply by donning a new set of clothes, she inhabits another life: from a reporter to an actress, Israeli to Palestinian, prostitute to professor. Regardless of each character’s ethnicity, political views, gender or age, each meets the same fate, falling to the ground after a sudden explosive crash.

Bahr’s performance in Dai (Enough) Saturday night in the Adams Memorial Theater aimed to encompass modern Israel by telling the story of 10 different characters moments before their collective deaths at the hands of a suicide bomber. Bahr deftly moved in and out of each character’s skin, taking on a new accent, body language and mannerisms while simultaneously representing another view of the state of Israel.

Some characters claimed to be indifferent or detached, such as the Russian prostitute out to make some money or the rich ex-pat juggling a cigarette, movie star sunglasses and her ever-ringing cell phone. Others had extremely pointed views, like the Jewish mother of eight kids, listing off the Jews’ rights of ownership to Israel and urging the murder of all who oppose her people. Only two were adamant in their wish for peace: a bubble-headed ecstasy dealer, advocating a “Party for Peace” and a thoughtful Palestinian professor, who relishes in the café’s sophisticated, international vibe and hopes to share this feeling with her troubled son.

The brevity of the monologues does endanger the meaning that each one carries; instead of challenging the audience’s preconceived notions of Israel, the characters could easily become flimsy stereotypes. While some characters did fall flat, the most successful ones either shoved the uncomfortable questions straight at the audience or evoked a concentrated pathos for his or her seemingly irresolvable situation.

Bahr, who not only performed but also wrote the play, no doubt drew upon her global experience to create such a range of characters. She grew up in the Bronx, but moved to Israel at the age of 12 and served in the Israeli military. She has traveled across Asia, earned a degree in neuropsychology and religious studies at Brown, and now performs on TV, on stage, as a stand-up and in her own short film.

Despite the simplistic costume changes for each character in Dai, Bahr’s appearance morphed significantly with each new personality. She has more than just a knack for accents; even when making a given character seem ridiculous, she gave each person a degree of sincerity and humanity. While meeting the challenges of performing a one-woman show, she infused the play with the sense that every character was connected by her representation of them, while simultaneously disconnected by their lack of interaction.

The sound of the explosion constitutes the most dramatic moment of the play, and yet the audience hears those sounds of screaming and shattering glass at the end of each character’s monologue. Even though I knew it was the inevitable end of each speech, I was repeatedly startled by the noise. Only with a few characters did I feel the end coming, anxiety increasing with each word. In both cases, the repetition of the crash was effective. When it came unexpectedly, it served as a harsh reminder of the bomb’s power; when I dreaded its arrival, I hung onto the character’s every last word, preparing myself for the tragedy. Instead of becoming predictable, the crash unified the different characters and emphasized each person’s right to live.

While the play did not offer any solutions to the conflict, Dai did reveal the many faces of Israel. It’s easy to read a headline about a suicide bombing and dismiss it as just another piece of news, especially relating to a conflict as drawn out as that of Israel and Palestine; as the ex-pat in the play says, “I never read the news, it’s too depressing.”

Dai serves to make that headline personal; it forces the audience to see the conflict from a human-to-human level and to at least rethink the issues of ethnic tensions, rights of ownership and the roots of extremism.