by Jay Gabler
Thursday, August 18, 2016
"I have never been one of those people who hunger to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," playwright Iris Bahr is quoted as saying in a program note for DAI (enough), "if only because I find that most such 'discussions' are just shouting matches between people whose minds have already been made up."
Accordingly, DAI is not a discussion. It's an act of remembrance and mourning, of observation and anger. It tells many stories, but doesn't attempt to tell all the stories there are to tell.
DAI is written for a single actor: Miriam Schwartz, in the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company production now onstage at the Highland Park Community Center. Schwartz plays each of 10 characters populating a Tel Aviv cafe that's attacked by a Palestinian suicide bomber. Bahr's play, set and first performed in 2006, is a series of monologues interrupted, in each case, by the shattering noise of the bomb's explosion.
The New York Times called the play "extremely unnerving," and that's certainly true of this production. The explosions are loud and sudden, and I flinched with sudden fear every time — even though I knew, every time, what was coming. As a dramatization of a state of terror, DAI is unmistakably effective, demonstrating how it might feel to live in a situation where, at any time, a sudden explosion might end lives in mid-sentence.
The monologues are framed as responses to questions posed by a British TV reporter who asks Israelis to talk about the roiling conflict, and talk is what we get: We hear from several native-born and immigrant Israelis, as well as from some visitors who are just passing through.
Among the characters are an expat who's come back to see family; an American who's volunteered to serve in the Israeli armed forces; a German man besotten with an Israeli lover who left him; a Russian prostitute who's passing as Jewish for, one might say, economic opportunity; and an idealistic young Israeli girl who's partnering with Palestinians for equal-opportunity sales of the drug ecstasy. Only one character is Palestinian herself: a middle-aged academic who's saddened by the straitened circumstances of young people like her son, but who argues that peace is the best path forward.
Schwartz is superb in this production, under the direction of Warren C. Bowles. The actor zeroes right in on each character, inhabiting her roles with empathy and confidence while avoiding any temptation to overplay or vamp. The small theater allows Schwartz a wide dynamic range as she literally steps into the shoes of one character after another; costume designer Liz Josheff Busa helps Schwartz to achieve these convincing transformations on a crowded but functional set by Michael Hoover.
The production succeeds at giving voice to a range of characters, who illustrate the complexity of the contemporary Israeli experience. It doesn't attempt to provide similar depth of insight into the Palestinian experience; when an unapologetic West Bank settler justifies her position angrily and at length, no one jumps up to refute her points, as they might if this were a "discussion." The Palestinian professor acknowledges her people's mistreatment at the hands of Israelis, but still makes regular pilgrimages to her favorite Tel Aviv cafe.
DAI (enough) gives us a look at this deadly conflict as seen from a series of Israeli perspectives. There's profound sadness here, but also hope. What can bring peace to this war-torn region? For all the understandable frustrations the word might evoke on both sides, a resolution might require some... yes, discussion.