Stop me if you’ve heard this one: a Russian prostitute, a German furniture designer, and an Arab statistics professor walk into a café. Not ringing any bells? Iris Bahr is willing to betit doesn’t.
What she can imagine, however, is that you have heard something about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. She can assume that you’ve experienced political conversations that splatter food on the walls instead of advance mutual understanding. And she’s probably right.
Dai (Enough), which closes this Sunday after a 5 day run, is Iris Bahr’s acclaimed one-woman show about a café in Tel Aviv just moments before a suicide bombing. Throughout the seventy-minute performance, Bahr portrays nine eclectic characters who are sitting in the café at the time of the bombing. Thanks to Bahr’s character specificity and dialect dexterity, stories from London, Amsterdam, Russia, New York, California, Israel, Germany, and Palestine release into the café air as effortlessly as the coffee steam and cigarette smoke to which her props allude. With humor, humility, and a jarring sound design that separates each character with an explosion, Bahr uplifts political theater as a genre that examines the relationship of individuals to their larger communities, rather than simply belaboring the failures of any given government.
Her characters entertain, haunt, provoke, and, at times, even console, as Bahr investigates the personal conflicts that have arisen for them in the wake of larger political discord. Each character responds to prompts from a CNN reporter (the first character to appear onstage) to talk about their reasons for coming to Tel Aviv, and the stories that emerge reveal that the violence in the region cuts into a vast spectrum of lives and voices. An elderly father waits for a son who is about to deploy to the Israeli army; an American actress surveys a script before an audition; a bikini-clad Dutch woman sells tickets to an ecstasy field party; an Orthodox mother looks for snacks for her seven children in between war protests. And ultimately all of them, regardless of their heritage, political persuasion, or religious identity, fall victim to a bomb brought in by a young Palestinian man whose mother is waiting in the café to talk with him about the importance of reconciling differences peacefully. The fuller moments of the piece – the deaths of beloved characters, the pain their stories unveil – would not resonate as urgently were it not for their comedic moments, and Bahr’s ability to show an inclusive, idiosyncratic range of human experiences.
Bahr offers no definitive solution to the conflict in the region, nor does she ask her audience to configure one. Often her characters offer their opinions about what might calm the violence – a feature film? A dance party? A stronger national defense? – though Bahr consistently plays devil’s advocate, either as the British journalist or with the opinions of another character, to challenge whatever resolutions might escape from the stage. Rather, the play is about the act of witness; it’s about humanizing a collection of people that news reports might illustrate as mere numbers. The connections Bahr seeks to build are not necessarily within the community that she presents, but between the characters and their audience. The play is not a collection of facts or a tally of numbers; it is a visceral, personalized glimpse into one of many violent attacks that could potentially devastate the lives of real people.
By devising her play so that the characters are responding to a journalist’s prompts, Bahr allows her audience to assume the objective lens she promotes from the prologue of her piece. Regardless of her audience’s personal biases, investment in the conflicts, or ambivalence about the state of affairs, she encourages her spectators, at least for an hour, to consider her characters’ stories without worrying about whether they are right or wrong. And ultimately, through a performance that solicits very emotional reactions from her audience, she reveals the importance of paying attention and bearing witness to the conflicts in the Middle East, even if resolutions are a distant, if not improbable, dream.
Running Time: 1:10 with no intermission
When: Three remaining performances remain: Sat, Jan 17 at 7:30 pm; Sun, Jan 18 at 2:30 pm and 7:30 pm.
Where: Studio Theatre’s Milton Theatre, 1501 14th St NW, Washington, DC
Tickets: $45. Click here to purchase.