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Multiple personalities, multiple identities, singularly Israeli

Posted By Ahron Shapiro On April 1, 2007 @ 7:00 pm In | No Comments

I wanted to create a piece that would both emotionally and viscerally humanize Israeli society for people – Iris Bahr.”I try to live extremely in the moment,” says Israeli-American actress Iris Bahr, casually.

Bahr, who has starred in film, television and stage, was talking about her acting technique, but she might as well have been referring to her entire life, a life that has been in almost constant flux.

It is the success of her current play that is keeping her in one place – for now. Dai (Enough), a one-woman show she wrote and performs, draws the audience into the lives of eleven strangers in a Tel Aviv cafe, moments before they are killed in a suicide bombing.

Dai was featured at New York’s Impact Theater Festival last fall and was quickly picked up by the Off-Broadway Culture Project theater, located in the East Village. It opened in early November and drew mostly positive reviews from critics, including Neil Genzlinger of the New York Times, who wrote about Bahr’s “impressively drawn” characters, adding “this is one show you are likely to be feeling for days afterward,” and concluding “[Dai] has a literal and figurative jolt that’s undeniable.”

For over three months, the play continued to draw crowds to each performance of its open run. An ‘open run’ may also be a good description for Bahr’s life to this point as well. She grew up in New York, moved to Israel at 13, served in the Israeli Army, traveled through Asia, then pursued studies and research in neuropsychology and psychobiology at Tel Aviv University, Stamford and Brown, where she graduated magna cum laude.

Eventually, however, Bahr’s love of theater pulled her away from a career in the sciences and towards the arts. She studied acting in America, including at the NYSF Shakespeare Lab at the Public Theater and the Actors Center Conservatory. She showed a flair for comedy as well, performing stand-up and garnering an invitation to the Montreal Just For Laughs Comedy Festival.

Bahr moved to Los Angeles and found roles in a range of shows, from the HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm to the motion picture Larry The Cable Guy.

Bahr has also proven herself to be a talented writer. She writes screenplays and has authored her first book, a humorous memoir of her youthful post-IDF travels in Asia entitled Dork Whore, which is scheduled for release this month. Before Dai, Bahr wrote and performed in another successful solo show, Planet America, which enjoyed a year-long run in Los Angeles.

It is Bahr’s comedic touch that critics say has brought warmth and life to the characters in Dai, allowing a potentially forbidding and distressing story concept to incorporate delicate, heartfelt and lighthearted moments, and, yes, even entertain the audience.

“First of all, I wanted to make it an entertaining theatrical experience,” Bahr told ISRAEL21c. “I wasn’t trying to make some sort of strong political statement. I love creating characters and stories… and bringing those stories to life in an entertaining yet moving fashion.”

On another level, Bahr says she set out to give theatergoers a perspective of Israelis they may not have considered before.

“I find that Israeli society is somewhat misunderstood by a lot of people. They have misconceptions about Israelis, and I wanted to create a piece that would both emotionally and viscerally humanize Israeli society for people, for Israelis,” she says.

Bahr recalls a memorable exchange with a member of the audience:

“A Muslim woman came up to me and said to me after the show, ‘Thank you for changing my perspective.’ She didn’t say ‘changing my opinion’ because I’m not out to change opinions, in a way.” Bahr says. “Some of the people’s opinions are usually fixed, but someone’s perspective [is malleable through] insight into an emotional, and I stress emotional, life of another human that people can relate to.”

Each of Bahr’s monologues is separated by the abrupt sound of explosion. It creates a suspenseful tension in the play that Bahr hopes will convey to the audience the sensations of what it might be like to live under the real threat of terrorism.

“I want to have people experience what I’ve come to know about Israeli society… to create that kind of sensation of the daily reality there and the tension and the kind of bodily experience that inhabits Israelis on a daily basis… I want people to experience these characters through that experience.”

Bahr says that, rather than perpetuate stereotypes of the terror-stricken Israelis, Dai invites the audience to understand how Israelis persevere and choose to live their lives normally in spite of threat.

“I’d like [the audience] to experience a slight bit of… the bodily tension that sort of takes you over – you’re living under that duress, and what that can do to you, in how you can choose to live your life to the fullest, or enter into some sort of victim mentality, and who chooses to do what.”

Bahr feels that her honest portrayals of people in Israel can serve to change perceptions of what an Israeli is, beyond the two-dimensional images that Americans see on the news.

“[They can see how Israelis] are like any other people in the world that have their own issues of love, life, and loss. And what it is like to have children that have to serve in the military – and it is mandatory – and the sacrifices people have to make. And what attracts people to stay, and what makes people leave.”

The characters in Dai are diverse, Bahr says, which reflects the cosmopolitan reality of Israel.

Among the foreigners joining her several Israeli personas in the play are a British journalist, a Russian prostitute, a German designer, a Palestinian professor, American immigrants, and an evangelical Christian.

“I wanted to illuminate how foreigners relate to Israel when they are in Israel and also the huge Diaspora of Israelis all over the world,” Bahr says. “I wanted to bring all that together and [also] that [emotional] connection that Israelis [and others]… have to Israel, which is a complex one.”

It is that same emotional connection that brings Bahr back to Israel regularly and was the impetus for creating Dai.

“I feel extremely connected to Israel and I miss it a lot,” Bahr says. “[While] I am happy pursuing my art here [in America] and bringing it to as many people as possible… hopefully I’ll take this show to Israel as well. I believe that if I wasn’t acting, I’d probably be living in Israel.”

Bahr expresses her hope that someday she won’t have to choose between her art and her country.

“I would love to combine both [acting and Israel]. I think that might be a little harder to implement, but I’d love to spend a lot of my time there and create and do my writing there.”

Perhaps Bahr’s feelings towards Israel can be found in the poster for Dai, which she designed. The poster shows images of Bahr draped in the Israeli flag. Bahr said she chose the image to represent “this vulnerability of the notion of the need and the love for Israel and the kind of comfort one seeks in the existence of Israel. It’s like a security blanket, almost.”

Bahr says that no matter where her life takes her, her bond with Israel will never fade.
“I love the lifestyle, I love the people. I feel at home there. I feel like home there, like I feel nowhere else.”

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