Deciding where your sympathies lie is one of the play's intellectual challenges.
—Joff Schmidt, CBC theatre reviewer
To say Iris Bahr's one-woman play Dai (Enough), which opens Winnipeg Jewish Theatre's 25th season, may be almost as challenging to its audience as to its performer says a lot. Bahr (an American writer and actor, who has performed all of the play's previous productions herself) gives a solo actor a staggering task in this play - but also asks an audience for a significant intellectual and emotional investment.
The payoff for making that investment, though, is considerable in this provocative and superbly performed production.
Set in a Tel Aviv cafe, the play presents 11 different characters (all played here by Torontonian Rebecca Auerbach) in the final minutes of their lives before the cafe is destroyed by a suicide bomber. As each is interviewed by a foreign correspondent looking to talk to "the typical Israeli," we see a different facet of Israeli life.
While the framing device of the interviewer felt clunky to me (these people all seem to open up to a foreigner with a camera very quickly), each character has his or her own take on the conflict in the Middle East, and is given equal weight in Bahr's script. She doesn't offer any pat conclusions, but presents a range of opinions for the audience to embrace - or reject. Deciding where your sympathies lie is one of the play's intellectual challenges.
Not all of these characters are entirely likable, but each is given a resonant humanity by the fact we know their lives are about to be extinguished. The utter hopelessness and inevitability of this outcome - established early in the play - is another of the key challenges to engaging with Dai, which offers far more moments of laugh-out-loud humour than you'd expect, but few glimmers of hope. It does, though, offer plenty of shocks - the repeated sound of the explosion made several audience members, myself included, jump each time it blasted out.
It is fortunate, then, that director Michael Nathanson's production is in the hands of an actor as exquisitely talented as Auerbach. In a fearless performance, she embodies each character - from a clueless L.A. actor to an angry Zionist mother to a pragmatic Russian prostitute - fully. In what amounts to a 110-minute long masterclass in acting, she convincingly delivers a range of accents (kudos are due here as well to dialect coach Shannon Vickers), and finds the subtle gestures and nuances that make each character rich, full, and tragic in the few minutes we spend with them.
She's able to play everything from moments of goofy humour to quiet, dignified drama with equal effect. Nathanson's wisely unhurried direction leaves Auerbach plenty of room to shine, and she takes full advantage of it.
It's an incredible performance, wrestling with a difficult play - but it's a performance that makes that difficult play a captivating experience.
Dai runs till November 4th at Winnipeg Jewish Theatre.