by Arthur Dorman
Thursday, August 25, 2016
The small stage of the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company has been transformed into a modest café or coffee shop in Tel Aviv with five bistro tables, each accompanied by one, two or three straight-back chairs. Hanging on the backs of the chairs are various garments, silently awaiting their purpose. In the course of DAI (enough), a shockwave of a play, each of those garments will come to life for nine or ten minutes, only to have that life pulverized by the deadly force of a bomb, courtesy of a suicide bomber.
Miriam Schwartz is the entire cast of DAI (enough), playing nine different customers at that café, as well as a British television journalist who interviews all of them. Slipping into a shirt, or skirt, or jacket, with appropriately matched shoes, Schwartz uses accents, posture, gestures and pacing to make each of these characters—eight women and two men—to life. It is a tour de force performance, capturing the essence of each of these characters—their worries, their joys, their quirks, and most of all, the commonality they share, in spite of their differences.
At the start of DAI (enough), Schwartz is journalist Christiane Saloniki on assignment in Israel. Her recent interviews of Arabs in Lebanon brought charges against her that she was biased in their favor and could not provide fair and balanced perspective on Israeli viewpoints toward the stand-off in the Middle East. Talking with her producer in London—who is also her boyfriend—Christiane asserts that she could not possibly be anti-Semitic, since all people of the Middle East—Arabs as well as Jews—are Semites, and she herself is part Syrian. She goes over her strategy for conducting the interviews, and is ready to go ... and then ... the first explosion.
Each of the other characters, the customers at the café, in turn speak as if Christiane is interviewing them, diving into monologues that lay their story and perspective bare. There is a Latina actress who claimed to be Jewish to win a movie role; a kibbutznik seeing his younger son off to military duty while his older son was left a cripple from his army service; a flamboyant, self-satisfied ex-pat living on Long Island and scornful of Israel, who has come to see her ailing mother; a Brooklyn-born West Bank settler, her many young children in tow, arguing vehemently against withdrawal from the occupied territories; a German gay man who came to Israel to be with his Israeli boyfriend; a Russian prostitute; a young American who volunteered in the Israeli army after her parents, holocaust survivors, passed away, and learns she has two aunts, also holocaust survivors, in Israel; a "raver chick" passing out flyers for a "party for peace"—a party at which ecstasy erases the barriers of race, language, religion and history; and a Palestinian professor struggling to keep her son out of the influence of extremists.
Serious as the overall sensibility of DAI (enough) is, there is humor woven into some of the monologues, such as Alma, the ex-pat, bragging that she has been welcomed back to Israel like the Queen of England. There also are startling insights. When Svetlana, the Russian prostitute, admits that she and her husband are not Jewish and had to pay $50 in Russia for false papers to present themselves as Jews in order to immigrate to Israel, she adds, "Can you imagine, paying $50for a paper that says you are a Jew. When in history did that ever happen before? Never!" That speaks volumes about the unique place Israel holds in the Jewish world.
Warren Bowles's direction maintains the necessary fluidity to overcome the trauma as each character is literally stopped dead in his or her tracks, with no time to reflect or question what just happened, underscoring the reality that amidst constant threat of violence, even death, life must go on. Playwright Iris Bahr lived in Israel from age 13 through her mandatory military service. Perhaps that contributes to writing that is extraordinarily sharp, true to human nature, and respectful of each speaker's specific point of view about their life and their presence in Israel, whatever the circumstances.
Miriam Schwartz's performance gives flesh and voice to Bahr's words. As she wordlessly slips from one character's garb into another each time the bomb explodes, we are completely convinced of her transition—or perhaps it is a resurrection—to a wholly new person. Last year, Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company launched its season with another one-woman play starring Schwartz, Becoming Dr. Ruth, about the iconic sex therapist. Schwartz was charming, and effectively conveyed the wide scope of Dr. Ruth's biography, but her work in DAI (enough) reaches a whole new level, placing her among the very best among the richly talented Twin Cities community of actors.
Every element of this production works. Michael Hoover's spare set is perfect for the occasion, with shelves of pottery—jars, bowls, cups—across the back of the café signifying the fragility of life in those environs. Liz Josheff Busa's costumes perfectly represent each character and enable Schwartz' transition, in view of the audience, from one to another. Paul Epton repeatedly provides the burst of light that accompanies each explosion, while Anita Kelling creates the horrific sound of the bomb's force, each time followed by a cacophony of sirens, screams, wailing babies, and God knows what. Their work brings a visceral response from the audience, and is humbling in the face of those who have actually lived through such terrible events.
Dai is the Hebrew word for "enough." The meaning of the title might be interpreted in different ways. There has been enough (far more than enough) killing. There is enough common humanity among these people, among all of us, to make a case for laying down arms. Just ten minutes with each character is enough to know them as a real and whole person, to recognize both the unique and common aspects of being human. It is noteworthy that DAI (enough) was first performed (by the playwright) ten years ago. None of the ills depicted in the play have abated, and one can easily make a case that conditions have worsened.
Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company has scheduled DAI (enough) for a very short run of two weeks. That leaves little time to get the word out about this powerful play and extraordinary performance. If not too late, you will want to make this high priority theater. Otherwise, perhaps MJTC will be able to bring this production back so that a wider audience can be enriched by its essential message and unflinching artistry.