Review: 'DAI,' at Minnesota Jewish Theatre, contemplates violence in a civil society

by Graydon Royce
Star Tribune
Friday, August 19, 2016

We always see the aftermath — the carnage and chaos and horrible shock. Playwright Iris Bahr proposes a different twist on the terrorist attacks that regularly rock the volatile Middle East. In "DAI (enough)," Bahr glimpses the normal rhythm, banal and unsuspecting, in a Tel Aviv cafe in the minutes before a suicide bombing.

Actor Miriam Schwartz is performing Bahr's 90-minute show at Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company. Under Warren Bowles' direction, Schwartz shuttles among 10 portrayals of folks who had happened to stop for a dab of caffeine on a lazy day. Punctuating the air between each vignette, a jarring "KA-BOOM!!!" signals that moment when the bomber detonates his device. And yes, it's really that loud. Check your pacemaker before entering the theater.

Bahr uses a British TV correspondent as the device for drawing out the character stories. As Christiane Saloniki, Schwartz explains that she's interviewing these denizens for a report on Israeli life. The actor then dons various shirts, hats and shoes to play the others.

Schwartz's voice, resonant and supple, has some muddy patches distinguishing among the accents — German to Russian to Hebrew to Israeli expat by way of the Upper West Side. A larger issue is her physical representations. She and Bowles admirably restrain the characterizations, but a tic or a shoulder slump or some other business could help us more quickly latch onto a few of these individuals.

The most interesting folks in Schwartz's work bring a passion or sharp point of view. There's a young Israeli raver promoting a "party for peace." She proclaims that lots of people partying on the drug Ecstasy is a better way to ease the Palestinian-Israel feud than the machinations of political leaders. This "drug of love and happiness" will change the terrorists' minds, she says. God bless her.

Then there is the Palestinian professor of statistics who argues that logic and rationality are the tools best fit to dig out of the morass. Schwartz is at her fiercest as a Brooklyn-born West Bank settler who brooks no talk of compromise.

These are the best and they all share a strong point of view — a polemic passion. Otherwise, "DAI" can feel inert and reiterative. If Bahr's sketches do move the needle in helping us (in our safe Midwestern perch) understand the Middle East, it is in our apprehension of terrorism's caprice in a civil society. This is the battlefield and the casualties are not soldiers. They are regular heroes — just like us.