Written and Performed by Iris Bahr
Directed by Will Pomerantz
The Culture Project
55 Mercer St., New York,
Often times, the most terrifying thing that plagues someone undergoing a traumatic process is uncertainty. Tragedy can come as a relief from that period of doubt and ambiguity. This counterintuitive set of emotions surfaces in literary technique in a process called Dramatic Irony (or Tragic Irony), which refers to a situation where audience members know more than the characters in a play. Perhaps the most famous examples of this literary technique surface in Oedipus Rex and Romeo and Juliet, where a unique sort of terror overcomes the viewer, who knows that the characters – however uncertain of their fate – have set themselves on the path pointing to certain death.
Iris Bahr’s new play, Dai (Enough), is an effort in dramatic irony from beginning to end. In a Tel Aviv café, a reporter, described in the script as “an androgynous, uber-intellectual, icy, well-groomed British reporter,” Christiane Saloniki, interviews coffee drinking patrons – mere minutes before a homicide bomber enters the café. The audience watches the characters state their final words (unbeknownst to them) before dying, one at a time. The play then is a series of soliloquies in which a diverse array of characters, both Israeli and Palestinian, tell their life stories.
The characters Bahr plays (masterfully changing accents as she changes costumes) are stylized, but embedded within the caricatures are interesting political comments. A spoiled American actress (from LA) questions Israel’s right to exist. “I mean who determines that right really, but why put your country here? I mean as a country, as a nation, we Americans pride ourselves on taking people in and letting them be themselves!” she says. “I mean, why not just come live with us in America, and cause less problems for your neighbors? I just want to tell these people, ‘Why cram yourself in a tiny space near the Mediterranean, surrounded by people who hate you? Come to Phoenix!’ “
A second-generation kibbutznik declares passionately, “It is our responsibility to our people, to the kibbutz, to the country, to keep protecting, to keep protecting! The threat to our existence is real, not imagined. The army is not a choice. The Arabs put down their weapons, no more war. We put down our weapons, no more Israel. You have heard of this?”
Iris Bahr as the kibbutznik in Dai. (Photo by Bruce Glikas)
Shuli Feinstein, described in the script as “an Orthodox West Bank settler and hard-core militant Kahane sympathizer” with a long skirt, head kerchief and three baby strollers, questions why the restaurant guests “think they can be like any other nation in the world sipping their espressos like they were on Fifth Ave.?” Feinstein tells Saloniki, the reporter, “The very idea that a so-called Palestinian nation has age-old attachments to this land is one of the most ridiculous lies the Palestinian ‘people’ have fabricated.”
Feinstein is also critical of Zionism. “I’ll be honest with you. I’m not a big fan of the Zionists. Zionism is a secular movement, whose Gentilized ideas are gnawing away at our Jewish identity.”
Bahr’s depictions of the actress, the kibbutznik, Feinstein and all of the other characters are far from judgmental. The play more closely resembles an anthology of short stories, in which the audience gets a glimpse – too short – into several different worlds. Even when Bahr seems to approach criticizing particular narratives, viewers are reminded (with loud booms) that each character is destined to die. In this light, it is hard to not find sympathy for them all.
In fact, the play is particularly interesting for its conservative, rather than liberal, politics. The narrative of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that often surfaces in cultural circles – at posh cocktail parties, in play and movie plots and in artists’ statements plastered on museum and gallery walls – is critical of Israel’s “occupation.” But Dai tells the opposite tale.
Iris Bahr as the journalist in Dai. (Photo by Bruce Glikas)
Saloniki has been told that her job is on the line because of a bias her superiors perceive as anti-Semitic. She reluctantly adds a disclaimer to the beginning of her newscast: “Let me just add, Diane, that I am fully aware of the criticism I have come under as of late, and that as a reporter I am fully committed to showing both sides of every story. And after six months in Beirut and Gaza, I think it only fair to see how the other side feels.”
Standing outside the café, Saloniki calls her mission one “to explore the plight of the Israeli people, which has been largely unexamined – and unjustifiably so.” She pledges to talk to “the man and woman of the Israeli street” and to present her viewers with “an in-depth look into the minds of the average [Arab] Israeli [who] lives and breathes existential threat, a threat that has increased exponentially since Hamas came into power, Iran became a force to be reckoned with and, for the first time, Israel proved to be no match for its enemies.”
Bahr knows a good deal about the world she describes in her play. She was born and grew up in the Bronx, and at age 13, moved to Israel. After serving in the army, she traveled through Asia for more than six months. The program to the play refers to the IDF as “our extremely humane military.”
When I first read the press release, Dai sounded like the kind of play that could either prove very deep and probing, or very trite. Plays about suicide bombers tend to be preachy and uninventive. The topic has simply been beaten to death so much that it seemed as unlikely to find a fresh perspective in the theater, as it is to find one in a political conversation.
But to Bahr’s credit, the play is so successful precisely because it has a down-to-earth feel. It is not about politics, but about the characters and their stories. After all, bombs are equal opportunity destroyers; it does not matter at all what political views the victims support.
Menachem Wecker is a painter, writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. He welcomes comments at email@example.com.