WJT had planned to kick off its 25th-anniversary season with the local debut of Perestroika, the award-winning conclusion to Tony Kushner's epic Angels in America.
The company's impressive revival last March of Angels in America: Millennium Approaches -- considered one of the great plays of the 20th century -- whet the appetite of Kushner fans for the first local production of the second half of the Tony Award-winning drama about AIDS, homosexuality and religion in 1980s New York.
Last month it announced Perestroika, with its eight-person cast and demanding production requirements, would be delayed until May 2013 and be replaced by the one-woman show Dai (enough) by American Iris Bahr.
"With a project as big as Angels and given as small a theatre as we are, we just needed to create more time for ourselves," WJT artistic producer Michael Nathanson says. "It's extremely ambitious to have scheduled them as tightly together as we did."
Millennium Approaches was the biggest production WJT had ever undertaken and to do both halves back-to-back proved too much on several levels.
"There were financial considerations, to be sure," he says. "It's tough for a small theatre to come up with that much cash flow in a six-month period. It's financial, but it's also the human resources needed."
The playlist shuffle also meant that the première of Alix Sobler's new play Rewritten, scheduled for the spring, was pushed back to next season.
The Canadian première of Dai opens tonight at the Berney Theatre (123 Doncaster St.), thrusting WJT patrons into a busy Tel Aviv café seconds before a devastating suicide-bomb attack. Bahr, an Israeli expat living in the United States as an actor/comedian, had been the sole performer of Dai until Nathanson persuaded her to allow Toronto's Rebecca Auerbach to do it for WJT.
The setup is that a BBC reporter covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict goes to a coffee shop to interview 10 customers before a suicide bomber arrives. Auerbach, 34, plays all the characters in dialects that range from Russian, German and Israeli to Upper West Side New York and Palestinian.
Nathanson, who directs Dai (it means "enough" in Hebrew), says he was attracted by the portrayal of the lives of people who lived with the strife that wasn't polemical or judgmental.
"There is so much misinformation that goes on about the conflict, because it is controlled so often by people at the extremes of the argument, that we need to understand the complexity of the situation," Nathanson says.
He was leery about bringing another script that involves the death of Jews into his theatre, as many people have had their fill of Holocaust plays. But Nathanson thinks Dai will provide a deeper understanding of what life is like over there.
"It's one of the uncomfortable realities of being a Jewish theatre," he says. "Part of the mission at WJT is to present shows that are provocative, and we can't back away from difficult subjects."
Auerbach says she was initially intimidated by the 70-page script, for which she has to recite every word during the 100-minute intermission-less presentation. Throw in the accents and both older male and female characters, and it is a considerable acting test.
"By far it's the hardest play I've ever done," says the Vancouver-born actress who lives in Toronto and is making her Winnipeg debut. "It's very easy to say. I can't imagine a bigger challenge in my career."
What she found appealing was the lack of bias embedded in Bahr's 2007 script and the wide array of opinions about Israeli society, although the circumstances are not encouraging.
"There is a recurring theme of hope in the play," says the graduate of Studio 58 in Vancouver. "I find it extraordinary to have hope with such a daunting issue. It seems like so much damage has been done that how can it be resolved? That's how I feel about it. I don't know if I have the same amount of hope the characters have."
Winnipeg Jewish Theatre
Opens tonight at Berney Theatre, to Nov. 4
Tickets: $35, $28/senior, $15/student at www.wjt.ca