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Rachel Auerbach


by Rhonda Spivak, October 29, 2012

["DAI" runs until Nov 4. Fro tickets call 204 477 7478]

WJT's production of DAI [meaning “Enough” in Hebrew], the Canadian premiere of Iris Bahr’s one woman play is excellent. DAI examines the complexities of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jewish-Diaspora issues, secular-religious, and other undercurrents in Israeli society through the characters of a Tel-Aviv cafe who become the victims of a Palestinian terrorist attack.

Rachel Auerbach successfully uses a mix of accents, and acting skills to brilliantly capture the vibrant 10 characters of the cafe, delivering what is at times some hilarious dialogue, to perfection. This is the first time that anyone other than the American -Israeli playwright herself, who now lives in the United States, has ever delivered the play, and Auerbach, who masters the dialogue shows she is certainly up to the task. Her acting is great.

Aurebach, a 34 year old Torontonian, the child of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother, told the WJR that she has never been to Israel, which is somewhat surprising me given her mastery of the characters. This fact proves only more than ever  how skillful her acting is, in that she is able to effectively capture the nuances and body language of the characters without ever having seen Israel first hand herself. (In a way too, Aurebach in fact is representative of Diaspora Jewry, in that she, like the majority of North American Jews today, has never visited Israel).

The colourful characters at the  Tel-Aviv cafe, capture a litany of aspects of Israeli society, but by no means all of them. They are interviewed by Aurebach who first appears as a BBC reporter (who is heard on the phone at the beginning of the play saying "How could I be antisemitic, I'm part Syrian ? ).

The more one is familiar with Israel, the more one will be able to gets the complexities and some of the subtleties of the characters, as well as some of the humour. For example I cracked up at the snooty Israeli ex pat livng in New York who returns to visit her sister and aging mother and complains about her sister still having the toilet where you need "to pull the rope to flush." But the viewer would need to have visited Israel over the years to appreciate how funny the line is.
The blood and guts of the terror attack at the café aren’t seen, but heard with a boom and siren as the stage goes dark as each character is killed off by the blast. One of the people with whom I saw the play thought the play underplayed the true horror of a terrorist attacks by not showing any of the bloodly aftermath of the, of the follow up trauma to the families etc whose lives are forever changed and damaged.
Unfortunately, as it is, I had one person tell me that they wouldn't want to see DAI because it would be a heavy subject matter, such that to show the bloody aspects of terror in the play, would I think make it less likely that the average viewer would want to see it. As it is Kevin Prokash of the Winnipeg Free Press found that "The impact of the structure [of the play] is initially very forceful, but it loses shock value when repeated over 110 minutes without intermission or release." Unlike Prokash, I didn't find a problem with the structure of the play—which gives  terror minutes of dialogue introducing the character and then the terror boom and siren).The fact of the matter is that for Israelis, who have had to live with repeated terror attacks, the repetition in this structure in fact mirrors reality. I also reject Prokash’s suggestion that the play ought to have been shortened.
After viewing DAI , over coffee, I had a lively discussion with the three others I saw it with  a discussion as to whether the Jewish Israeli characters in the play were all portrayed in a negative light or not? One of the four of us felt strongly that a likeable Jewish character was missing from the script, which made him not like the play itself as a script, and he suggested you could tell that the play was written by an Israeli Jew who has decided to live abroad rather than Israel. He also thought the play minimizes the truly miraculous efforts that were needed to found the state. When you see the play (which I encourage you to do), it is worthwhile to ask yourself if you think this is correct? I didn't have as strong a negative reaction to the script as he did, but there is something to what he is saying.
For me, the most likable Jewish character was the Israeli Macho kibbutznik who "served in Arik [Sharon’s] unit" and who had one wounded son in the army injured in hospital, and was upset that another son was going to "live in New York to sell carpets." He says "When the Arabs put down their guns there will be peace. When we put down our guns there will be no more Israel." And yet, he is not altogether sympathetic in that he complains his wife has enough emotions for the two of them, and it is also true that there is no real dialogue explaining the kibbutz collective ethos and heroic self- sacrifice which was at the core of the founding of the state, and could have conceivably come out of his mouth.
The American Jew, the product of Holocaust survivors (who believe in the State of Israel but don't live there) who volunteers for the army and is struggling with her identity is a partially likeable character, especially since she in the end decides to visit her mother's family in Israel who also survived the Holocaust). But there too Israeli society is presented in a negative way with the Israeli army making fun of her for being an American and her supervisor denying her leave off the base for weeks since she has no relatives or anyone to see.
The religious settler comes off as strident and militant and not likeable as a character. Although she delivers historical truths about the Jewish presence in Israel, and the history of the conflict, the fact that she is not  a likeable character arguably makes what she says have far less impact than it would have if it was delivered by a non-settler character. It is unfortunate and problematic that the Jewish attachment to the land of Israel isn't really explained by anyone who is  a sympathetic Jewish character.

The Jewish party girl who is involved in the smuggling of ecstasy through the tunnels between Egypt and Gaza for use at a peace party (since when everyone is on the drug,” they can get along”) is not really an overall likable character. She is ultimately involved in illicit drug smuggling. (Although the Arabs in this illicit operation are also not likeable. The Egyptians, and the Gazans allow the smuggling so they can take a cut, and the party girl has to pay the Palestiniansto attend the peace party).
The secular Jewish Israeli living in New York delivers some lines that are very very humourous. She flies to Israel on Rosh Hashanah since "Rosh Hashana is the best time to fly. No one is on the plane") She smokes while complaining "It's so smoky in here," has named her children Cassidy and Dylan, and debates whether she should stay an extra day to see some old friends. She insists on speaking English because it now comes more naturally for her. While I laughed a lot throughout her dialogue (and Aurebach does a stellar job capturing her mannerisms) she is not, a  terribly sympathetic character.
The rest of the characters are non-Jewish. The German gay designer, whose father is against reparations to Israel, who likes to designed chairs with sharp edges, and who falls in love with an Israeli Daniel, delivers some superb dialogue that will have you cracking up, and through him all sorts of Jewish-German Holocaust related issues are examined. The other tremendously funny character is the Russian prostitute who is not Jewish but had papers faked so she can get to Israel because it's a good place to work and they have fantastic coffee. (She points out correctly how rare it is for anyone in history to have faked papers to try to become Jewish). Her dialogue about Israeli men haggling over the price of sex with her while in the midst of the sex had me in stitches laughing.
The Christian evangelical from the United States and a non-Jewish actress who pretends to be Jewish so she is can get the part round out the rest of the characters.
The actress asks the Jews "Why move yourselves into a tiny space where all the neighbors hate you ? Come to Phoenix." It's a humourous line, delivered out of the mouth of someone who has no understanding of Jewish history, and yet it also captures the fact that there are so many ex-pat Israelis living in the United States.
The most sympathetic character, arguably, is the Palestinian Professor from Ramallah who while denouncing the occupation of the West bank can recognize that the Palestinians are always blaming Israel for everything. She recognizes Israel's genuine accomplishments and appears to be willing to accept Israel's right to exist, and would rather Palestinians focus on building their own vibrant democracy. She is trying to show her son that he ought to focus on bettering his own life, not on blaming Israel for everything.
As Kevin Prokash writes in his review in the Winnipeg Free Press, "'The most sympathetic voice is that of a thoughtful Palestinian professor” which arguably is the case. One (as those in my group of four did) group did) may legitimately ask why it is that the Bahr cast the Palestinian intellectual as the most sympathetic voice, more so arguably than any of the Jewish characters?
However, on the other hand, the play accurately depicts that the extremist voices on the Palestinian side have the upper hand, and their actions drown out the voices of moderation on the Palestinian side.
Iris Bahr, who was born in the Bronx and moved to Israel when she was 13 and spent two years in Israeli army intelligence told the New York Times that her own views on the conflict are mixed. ( I think this mix comes across in the play, and can lead to viewers asking some thought provoking questions.
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.