Ami Dayan in A Tale of a Tiger(Photo © Mike Stillman)
Ami Dayan in A Tale of a Tiger
(Photo © Mike Stillman)
One might say that, with his new one-man theater piece, Ami Dayan has grabbed a tiger by the tale -- and he's done so with muscularity, conviction, humor, and grace. The monologue is called A Tale of a Tiger. Although it has complicated origins, it's mesmerisingly straightforward in the telling.

The narrative concerns a soldier of Mao Tse-Tung who's left for dead at the end of a battle with Chang Kai-Shek's forces. The wounded warrior makes his halting way to a nearby cave inhabited by a tigress and her cub; thinking that he'd rather succumb to gangrene than an impending tigress attack, he instead is healed by his hostess. He reciprocates by introducing the occupants to cooked meat and subsequently decides to put to use the healing powers that he himself has developed in the cave. The healing part is Dayan's ending to the tale; in a previous version (see below), the recovered soldier employs his new-found wisdom and determination to encourage oppressed peoples to rise against their dominators.

A Tale of a Tiger is definitely is a good time, especially as delivered by Dayan (a cousin of Moshe Dayan), who unfolds the story after arriving bare-footed through the audience like a ragtag troubadour. The tale began literary life as an Indian myth, then was adapted in China and further retooled by Dario Fo for Italian audiences. In 1994, when Dayan tailored it to his abundant talents, he apparently decided that Fo's call-to-arms denouement was too chancy during an intifada era, and he substituted the conciliatory finish. Later, when Dayan importuned Fo for extended rights to perform the piece stateside, Fo leaned on him to present the original version. Dayan pressed for his. A compromise was reached. That's why, during the present run, both endings are played -- Dayan's first, then Fo's -- at Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday evening performances.

A Tale of a Tiger, actually billed as Dario Fo's A Tale of a Tiger, is an allegory, of course. Dayan, often clambering over a trellis-like object that's the entire set designed by co-adapter Miki Ben Cnaan, turns Fo's La Storia Della Tigre into the kind of allegory that's often told around a campfire. The audience is seated around him on three sides, and his entrance through the crowd is an indication that he intends to include the patrons in the proceedings. Indeed, he's counting on participation -- and because he's so thoroughly engaging, he gets it. Before he's done, he has bowed to ticket-buyers in humble welcome, asked them to translate tiger sounds, had them hold streamers, and elicited roars in emulation of his tigress's fierce utterances.

Ami Dayan in A Tale of a Tiger(Photo © Mike Stillman)
Ami Dayan in A Tale of a Tiger
(Photo © Mike Stillman)
Telling his tale with bounding energy, Dayan explains that, in China, the phrase "has the tiger" means having the gumption to stand up for oneself rather than to retreat in the face of daunting obstacles. His reaping of roars from the audience is an indication he's subtly transmitted his purpose to spectators. That's to say, he may have transmitted both his and Fo's messages. Whether he's transformed attendees into a revolutionary army is less likely than that he's maneuvered them into considering healing. He makes a point of requesting audience members to join in a prayer "for everything that needs healing" and asks for specific trouble spots. At the performance I saw, suggestions included Israel-Palestine and Alzheimer's disease. When one person shouted "George Bush," Dayan replied, "There's a limit to what we can do."

That crack is a clue to Dayan's strengths as a performer and to his sole weakness. A lithe man with a shaved head, a face of bold and flat planes, and expressive limbs that are never still, Dayan also possesses a kibbitzer's soul. While never entirely losing forcefulness, he not infrequently waxes cute while wooing ringsiders. If anything undercuts his effectiveness, this is it -- and because Dayan has directed himself, with the assistance of movement director Robert Davidson, he might not notice the problem.

Since Dayan currently teaches at Boulder's Naropa University, where Buddhist traditions are the guiding precepts, he's likely to be plugging the piece's spiritual implications. (Ran Bagno's music often sounds like Eastern philosophy transmuted into melody.) He refers to his notion of conciliation and Fo's advocacy of protest but he notes additionally that, perhaps, the offering is about how to do theater. And, yes, A Tale of a Tiger is a fine example of solo performance art blended with story theater.