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Play to 'Dai' For

November 29, 2007 By:
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Iris Bahr: Facing facts about coffee and commotion
Sometimes, even a casual coffee break in Israel can be shattering, with a cafe grounds for high drama.

Shards of lives accompany cream and the caffeine in "Dai," a detonation of a drama by Iris Bahr, which literally translates from the Hebrew into "enough," but empirically into "to die for."

A double dose of sugar in that death wish? Sweet and low lights of everyday living as an Israeli?

Assembling a cast of characters from Tel Aviv and, tellingly, from around the globe, Bahr bars none from the impact of the double shot of espresso and explosions that are the inexplicable endgame of what has become the Bible land's bibulous bombshell.

A one-woman show with a Top 10 character list -- a crosscutting of Israel with all the cuts and bruises to bounce off of -- Bahr has raised the bar for Mideast midrashes, in which everyday life is limned with the loving care and caution of one who has been there.

Just opened off-Broadway, "Dai" is impervious to the stagehands' strike, but not to the strike of misfortune that missiles its mission to the hearts of cafe patrons who happen to be downing their lattes with the lousiest of luck and timing. Each onstage story -- and intriguing they are -- is curious interruptus as inbred terrorism takes its terrible toll on these non-teetotalers.

Star buckshot: There is the caustic commentator/reporter -- a searing sendup of CNN's Christiane Amanpour -- who wants Israelis and others to put their lives out before the camera so she can get some quick, if quixotic, sound bites that wind up Draculean in their drama. Sabras, strangers, Palestinians and polished Hollywood types are extolled and eviscerated amid the vapors of the vanquished.

It is truly not so ironic that the irrepressible author/actress has carved her decimated victims into 10 parts. She is a woman of many parts herself: a walking, talking cocktail party of conversations that are at once intriguing and informed.

The Bronx-born Bahr barreled into Israel at age 12, served in the Israeli army, traveled to Asia, returned to the United States to study at Brown University, where she researched neuropsychology; spent her junior year studying at Tel Aviv University, came back to New York, studied acting and then got hit by a truck on her way back home from clown class.

And she didn't even get a chance to schpritz the driver with her seltzer.

Soon after, however, she didn't run off with the circus, but to Los Angeles. And now, here on 47th Street, mid-Manhattan, she's moved to the Mideast once more, each night, demitasse in hand, handling the demimonde of suicide bombers and those whose lives they destroy.

Bahr has been accused by one critic of waving the Israeli flag, but she can turn blue and white in the face at such criticism. She loves Israel, sure, but "this is not a polemic," says Bahr of the nonpolitical play.

What it is, she feels, is giving Israel -- land of the free, home of the brave, cafe claque for kvetches and carpers alike -- its due as a dynamic dune-dogged land, where good things can happen to good people -- as long as they're in bulletproof vests.

Self-hating Jew? Self-haimisch Jew! She's a New Yisraeli who's proof-positive that Israeli doings are not all the news unfit to print.

Is "Dai" the anti-"Rachel Corrie" play?

"I hadn't seen that," she explains of the vehemently anti-Israeli idealogue passing as drama that passed through New York on its way elsewhere last year.

"Dai" has passed this way before, a program of the Culture Project before coming to the 47th Street Theatre, following a run in Edinburgh at the summer's Fringe Festival.

Fringe festival in Scotland? Yes, and no one wore a tallis. "There wasn't a Jew in the house for the entire month," she recalls of "How I Spent My Summer Vacation Working My Tsis-Tsis Off."

"They laughed and they cried."

Haggadah and haggis -- perfect together?

"No," she laughs. "This is not a play about the founding of Zion."

But it certainly has found its audience, Jew and non-Jew alike -- if they could ever be called alike. "There is a growing danger that [outsiders feel] Israel is not under existential threat, but we are. And to live under these tense conditions ... it's not all about the bombings, it's about humanity."

Putting a human face on it all is what Bahr achieves in "Dai." But there are some who would rather die than be caught and called sympathetic in the audience.

"Certainly" she admits, "there are some anti-Israelis who won't come to the show and have a chance to be enlightened."

Want your coffee light? Why place the action in a coffeehouse at all? Or, for that matter, are cafes caftans, serving as cover for so many suicide bombers?

"Coffeehouses are so popular in Israel; maybe it's the psychology of a suicide bomber, who sees it as [striking at] a place of recreation," she replies. "It is a big part of the Mideastern culture."

While Bahr is accustomed to criticism and acclaim both, not all her characters are cultured, albeit they are cultural icons: The magna-cum-lauded graduate of Brown has a sense of black comedy as well, portraying Svetlana, a brusque Ruskie of a recurring radio character whose favorite sport is streetwalking, although not for the aerobics. Her gymnastics membership in the St. Petersburg House of Discreet Pleasure gives new meaning to the Peter Principle.

"Svetlana is in the show," she says of one of the "Dai" characters. Looking for latte in all the wrong places?

"Looking for customers."

Bahr booked success, too, with Dork Whore, a travelogue of treats culled from My Travels Through Asia as a Twenty-Year-Old Pseudo-Virgin.

Vagina monologues of world meanderings? Such an unorthodox "memoir" from a woman whose memories are of an Orthodox upbringing. Bring that up, and one has only to recall her riotous recurring role as Rachel Heineman, the observant Jew uninsightful enough to get a (ski) lift from Larry David in a relationship that went all downhill in "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

Critics are having a hard time curbing their enthusiasm for the author/actress, one of the chosen ones whose mix and match of projects, including "The Unchosen Ones," based on skits she did on Tel Aviv streets, is coming to movie screens soon.

It's a no-brainer that her college studies taught Bahr about human character, much in play in her play.

"Neuropsychology, everything you learn helps you to have good observations," she says.

So has observed the United Nations. She performed before a panoply of potentates, U.N. ambassadors who applauded and appreciated her "Dai" derring-do. "It felt amazing; I did feel like I was serving my country," she says of Israel.

But what could be more meaningful than telling her story to Tel Avivans? Tossing the die by taking "Dai" to Israel next year? A lot of interest in Eilat? She is thrilled to do so.

Meanwhile, as she "performs 10 deaths" every night on stage -- "I put my soul on the table every day with this play, and it takes a lot out of me" -- it takes a certain pleasure to be bravoed and bragged about by one certain Israeli supporter in the audience.

"He's so cute," she says of her father, who has seen "Dai" an indefinite number of times.

Dayenu? Enough at some point? This is a Jewish father, after all.

"Every night," she says with a laugh, "it's like he's seeing it for the first time."

 

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