Faced with real-life horror, do we seek a pleasant escape in the theatre, or do we choose to face it head on, with drama that brings us closer to the horror to better understand it? This is a bit of a false dichotomy; the best theatre doesn't ask us to choose between diversion and immersion.
Case in point: Iris Bahr's brilliant, funny, and disturbing Dai (enough)
, a solo show that opened at the Culture Project in late 2006 and continues a successful Off-Broadway extension at the 47th Street Theatre through Mar. 2. In Dai
, the versatile Bahr portrays several denizens of a Tel Aviv café just minutes before a suicide bomber enters and cuts short their monologues.
A gifted mimic, Bahr expertly limns everyone from a Russian prostitute to a grizzled Israeli army veteran, from a quiet Palestinian mother to a gay German émigré, from a fired-up Israeli settler to an awkward American Midwesterner. There is humor and bitterness in their stories, but all end the same. It's a powerful, suspenseful premise, and though it's staged merely with tables, chairs, a few costumes and props, and though the sound and lighting effects are also very simple, the impact of the Rashomon
-like structure, and the piecing together of the whole picture, ends up feeling almost cinematic.
"After doing it for more than a year, I always try and discover new things every night--character nuances, bouncing off the audience response," Bahr says. The biggest difference among audiences has been cultural: "The Israelis in the houses here get a lot of the inside Hebrew and Israeli jokes. Yet when I did it in Edinburgh, the audience got a lot of the jokes that crowds here don't always respond to. Still, the universal themes and the theatrical force of the piece cross all boundaries, which has been really satisfying for me."
The most gratifying response, she says, was from an actual survivor of a suicide bombing in Israel.
"She came to speak to me afterwards," Bahr recalls. "She was very emotional-well, we both were from our conversation. She said it was extremely difficult for her to watch but very powerful, and she was happy she came."
Did she, like Anna Deavere Smith, do a lot of firsthand research with real people, then recreate their lives? Or did she, like Danny Hoch or Sarah Jones, use real-life models as springboards for her own creations?
"The stories are all fictional," Bahr says, coming down on the latter side of the continuum. "I was inspired by certain people I've encountered in my life, like the Israeli ex-pat and the kibbutznik, but their stories all grew in my imagination."
What started in Bahr's imagination will stick in theatregoers' minds for a long time. There are just a few more weeks to see Dai
; for more information go here