Iris Bahr’s “Dai” (Hebrew for “Enough”), a one-woman play about 10 people at a Tel Aviv cafe moments before a suicide bombing, opens Jan. 29 at the Lillian Theatre in Hollywood at a particularly relevant moment.
“In my play, I’m portraying Israelis as the victims,” Bahr said, “but who’s being bombed now?”
With the fierce Israeli military operation in Gaza as a backdrop, Bahr is anxious to see what kind of audiences her off-Broadway hit will draw. The Bronx-born actress and comedian, who moved to Israel at age 13 and served in the Israeli army, wrote “Dai” as a series of monologues two and a half years ago, during a period of relative calm in Israel. At the time, the second intifada had lost much of its steam and suicide bombings were infrequent, but the sense of threat remained.
“Even after 9/11, people here [in America] don’t know what it’s like to sit in a cafe and worry about a suicide bombing,” she said. The 10 characters in “Dai” are a composite of personalities Bahr has encountered over the years. Many of them are not Israeli at all — reflecting Israel’s diversity, though the result is a somewhat implausible restaurant scenario, even for a cosmopolitan city like Tel Aviv.
Among the frequently comical characters is a Tel Aviv ex-patriot visiting from New York who balks at the idea of sending her husband to reserve duty defending the “stupid settlers”; an awkward American girl volunteering in the Israeli army and struggling to adjust to the abrupt nature of Israelis; a moderate female Palestinian professor who is disconcerted by her son’s deepening radicalism; and a Russian prostitute who snuck into Israel by faking a Jewish identity.
Interviewed by a British journalist sympathetic to the Palestinians (a thinly veiled caricature of Christiane Amanpour), each character expresses a unique perspective on the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Each monologue — and life — is abruptly cut short by a deafening explosion. The bombings may provide the framework for the show, but Bahr insists they are not the focus. “What the audience experiences is a celebration of the characters’ lives. The monologues are humorous and full of life and that’s what people leave with.”
Still, the jarring bomb blasts have left a lasting impression on viewers.
“The cumulative effect of all those explosions make it clear how hard it is to do any sort of clear thinking when you’re steeling yourself for the next ka-boom,” Helen Shaw wrote in Time Out New York.
“I’m not out to change anyone’s mind,” said Bahr, speaking from Washington, D.C., where she was performing her play and staying for the inauguration. “I’m not that naïve. I know why people come to the theater — they come to be entertained and to be moved.”
Nevertheless, Bahr has performed for more than just entertainment’s sake. She performed “Dai” in front of 100 U.N. delegates in May 2007 in an effort to educate and inform. As it turned out, none of the Arab delegates attended.
More surprising to Bahr was the fact that a victim of the infamous suicide bombing of the Dolphinarium club in Tel Aviv came to one of her performances. Bahr met the young woman, who was in her early 20s, as she was mingling with the audience after the show. Her face badly scarred, the woman thanked Bahr and told her that it was extremely difficult and emotional for her to watch the play, but that she enjoyed the characters and was glad a friend had recommended it.
Although the current Gaza crisis resulted in hundreds more Palestinian victims than Israelis, Bahr points out that the threat of suicide bombings always increase during times of armed conflicts, and that Hamas has repeatedly threatened to retaliate against Israel with suicide bombings.
“It’s tragic,” Bahr said. “We want to protect our citizens. I wish there was a Palestinian leadership that would take responsibility for their people and finally do what is good for them.”
“Dai,” runs Jan. 29-Feb. 15. $25. at the Lillian Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 960-4410. www.plays411.com/dai.