by Caleigh Gumbiner
Wednesday, August 24, 2016
Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s current production of Israeli-American performance artist Iris Bahr’s “Dai” (Enough) follows through on the company’s mission to and legacy of “Telling stories of our common search for identity”.
Running now until August 31, “Dai” is set in a café in 2006 Tel Aviv moments before a bombing. The show is comprised of 10 monologues from 10 characters performed by one actress, Miriam Schwartz. It was noted in the playbill the play originally featured 11, but one character was struck from the play at the author’s request.
With only outerwear to mark the various characters, Schwartz performs a range of identities from a young Israeli military man to an expatriated woman visiting from New York to a Palestinian professor. Directed by the decorated Warren Bowles, the production moves along at a steady, albeit frustratingly even, pace.
The show refers to itself as a solo performance rather than a play. While there are clear through-lines and connections between each of the characters, the performance avoids a single, linear narrative, which ultimately compliments the multiplicity of perspectives featured.
Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company’s producing artistic director and founder Barbara Brooks had a particular challenge when choosing the pieces this year. How would a Jewish theatre company focused on telling stories about common searches for identity respond to a rise in Islamophobia, xenophobia, and a refugee crisis pushing more and more Americans towards lashing out in fear? Brooks and MJTC chose to push back with a piece that attempts to remind us of the humanity each person holds no matter how different they may be. With only one Palestinian character, the play feels a bit lopsided towards a Jewish perspective. However, considering the demographic of MJTC’s audience, this move proves a welcoming way to open a conversation, hopefully to be continued into an even more equitable dialogue.
Brooks’ choice reflects a special moment in theatre across the Twin Cities. More and more productions are consciously shining the spotlight on identities usually consigned to the outskirts of narratives.
Across the river back in Minneapolis, the Guthrie’s new artistic director, Joseph Haj, chose to stage “Disgraced” by Ayad Akhtar. This play follows a Pakistani-American man’s struggle with his ethnic and religious background in the face of racism and Islamophobia in a post-9/11 New York.
“Disgraced” and “Dai” take different approaches to identity politics. However, both productions stage Muslim, Christian, and Jewish characters together in the same space. These choices reflect a desire from these communities for equitable, intersectional dialogue. We want to talk to each other. We want to know each other. We are using our theatres as the first line of communication. Hopefully, these lines of communication will continue to extend past the theatres.
This review was made possible in part with support from the Howard B. & Ruth F. Brin Jewish Arts Endowment, a fund of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation’s Foundation, and Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council, an initiative of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation.