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Stage and screen diva Olympia Dukakis, in a speech some years ago before the American Conservatory Theatre, offered that “play audiences want to be reminded of their own humanity.” I have to agree, and Saul Elkin does also, I would bet.

Elkin is the founding artistic director of the 11-year-old Jewish Repertory Theatre, and the JRT’s plays almost always find some good in the human condition – kindness, mercy, forgiveness, empathy, sympathy – even if the messages are disguised or, many times, diverted or delayed. Plays such as “Kindertransport” and “The Whipping Man,” even gentler lessons of tolerance like the vintage “Driving Miss Daisy,” are examples of JRT’s lessons to study and heed. Sometimes, given our own country’s issues and those around the globe, finding commonality and understanding, much less solutions, is difficult, often baffling. Nevertheless, JRT seeks answers as it provokes and informs.

The latest addition to the JRT humanity search is Iris Bahr’s unnerving, visceral “Dai” – Hebrew for “enough” – an almost two-hour visit to a Tel Aviv café, small, busy, eclectic, a meeting and gathering place for Israelis, Palestinians, expatriates and tourists. Most are there for coffee and conversation, others for unspeakable reasons. Suicide bombing, for instance.

The scenario is this: A CNN reporter wants to capture some interviews of the Café Iris clientele, their takes on the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian “conflict,” Gaza, Iran, America, their lives. Candidly. Some speakers don’t want to be on camera. Others are bombastic. Some are reticent and slowly warm to baring their thoughts. Many give too much information. Currently, there are 10 patrons in the Iris. They wait their turns.

Speaking of expatriates, the marvelous actress Josie DiVincenzo, recently returned to Western New York, plays all 11 roles: the reporter, an expat New Yorker, an old man waiting for his son, a West Bank settler, a Russian prostitute, an American volunteer in the Israeli army, a Christian evangelist and others.

It’s an amazing, bravura night of changing wigs, blouses and coats; of using different gaits, facial expressions, attitudes and accents; of portraying characters with diverse opinions about life cards they’ve been dealt, their families, affairs and the future. Some are home, some have come home, some are passing through. We learn much. “Dai,” in many ways, is more sociological than political. Playwright Bahr, with her Israeli roots, stays away from diatribe (with a few exceptions).

Each interview ends, usually in midsentence, hopeful or with doubt or a sense of danger, with a glass-shattering explosion – representing the one major blast that levels the place – Alma Svetlana, Trev or Nijma sent tumbling, killed or maimed in an instant. There is jolt, shock, a face and a name, not a mere wire report of “a French national, possibly an American …” There is no need for that famously insensitive phrase “collateral damage.” Individual and collective loss, dreams and hopes gone. “After trauma, the brain floods the body with hope,” says one of the café visitors. We can only wish.

Great praise to Bahr, JRT, Elkin, a pair of dialect coaches and technical pros – particularly set designer and prop master Joel Resnikoff. Also to the extraordinary DiVincenzo, nuanced and wise, so good at making her array of characters not right or wrong, and so expert at giving us a remarkable, identifiable, heart-wrenching look at such a wide range of human experience.



THEATER REVIEW

Stars: 

What: “Dai”

Where: Maxine and Robert Seller Theatre, 2640 N. Forest Road, Getzville

When: Through March 2

Tickets: $10-$38

Info: 688-4114