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Precious moments tick-tick away

February 06, 2009|F. Kathleen Foley: David Ng

We get the conceit behind "dai (enough)" early on. Writer-performer Iris Bahr's solo show, now at the Lillian, catches the habitues of a Tel Aviv cafe in the moments before a suicide bombing. The play is constructed in a series of individual monologues. Just as we are getting to know the particular character, the bomb detonates. And that same bombing is replicated, again and again, as each person's life abruptly ends.

Bahr won the 2008 Lucille Lortel Award for her performance, originally staged off-Broadway by Will Pomerantz. Buoyed by Frank Gaeta's superb sound design, Bahr portrays almost a dozen characters with propulsive panache. There's the Russian prostitute, the gay German furniture designer, the politically radical Israeli mother who encapsulates the history of her beleaguered nation in brisk detail.

Bahr's dramatic intentions are obvious: She sets out to personalize the individual loss within the collective cataclysm, and she succeeds, shatteringly. As each character chatters away cheerfully, we know he or she is doomed. And although we brace ourselves for the inevitable blast, the cumulative explosions take us to a peak of dread and tension that is almost unbearable.

Bahr's political intentions are obvious as well. She makes a passionately common-sense case for the Israeli cause and points out genocidal intentions of Israel's fanatical adversaries. As one character unequivocally observes, "The Arabs put down their weapons, no more war. We put down our weapons, no more Israel."

There are rough patches. Bahr's unnecessary device of having the same reporter interview each character defies logic. And a few of Bahr's mannerisms and accents seem blurringly similar. Despite those flaws, Bahr is an engaging performer who brings humor and humanity to her various personae. More important, "dai" is a compellingly distilled, superbly reasoned piece that states the Israeli cause with rationalism and restraint.

-- F. Kathleen Foley

"dai (enough)," Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 15. $25. (323) 960-4410. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

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Even tamed 'Lions' roar

"Lions," Vince Melocchi's play making a return to Pacific Resident Theatre, is a drama that speaks directly to our country's current state of affairs, which is to say it's a play about unemployment, hardship and economic collapse. If that sounds like a depressing thematic lineup, the play itself is far from being a downer.

"Lions" takes an unsentimental look at a ravaged cross-section of present-day Detroit and tells a story of compassion in a cold climate. Melocchi's play is a smart, humanistic though not terribly profound observation of working-class survivalism.

Spook (Matt McKenzie) is an unemployed auto-parts worker who spends his time at a local club drinking beer and watching his beloved Detroit Lions on television. Good-natured and essentially kindhearted, he holds court with his fellow football fans, including a reverend (Kim Estes), an undertaker (Haskell V. Anderson III) and a downtrodden grocery store clerk (Alan Keith Caldwell).

The play, which unfolds during the NFL's 2007 draft season, charts Spook's downward economic trajectory with a bracing matter-of-factness. His wife (Valerie Dillman), a dollar-store employee, begs him to find work, but he keeps sabotaging his meetings with an exasperated jobs counselor (Gloria Charles).

"Lions," directed by Guillermo Cienfuegos, seldom rises above detached quotidian observations, preferring to illuminate surfaces instead of plumbing depths. But the production delivers a handful of excellent performances (especially McKenzie's) and brings to life characters whose lack of bitterness and self-pity make them worthy of our empathy.

-- David Ng

"Lions," Pacific Resident Theatre, 705 1/2 Venice Blvd., Venice. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 29. $20 to $25. (310) 822-8392. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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'Taking Steps' to find a tonic

If Britain is a nation of eccentrics, then Alan Ayckbourn is its modern-day Bard, a witty wordsmith whose work is populated with offbeat characters who have no clue about how clueless they are. Author of almost 80 comedies, Ayckbourn is now largely retired. But the plays in his prolific oeuvre remain durably timely entertainments.

The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble opens its 40th season with Ayckbourn's 1980 romp, "Taking Steps." Thumbing their noses at grim prognostications about the parlous state of theater these days, co-directors Allan Miller and Ron Sossi invite us to join them for a hearty laugh or two. In light of present circumstances, it's a fitting, even courageous choice, a cheeky whistle in the gathering darkness.

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