It all begins with the sounds of war and an older Golda Meir smoking a cigarette. Told in a series of flashback vignettes, Golda’s Balcony takes the audience on journey through Meir’s life as well as on a journey of self-discovery as the play makes the viewer examine his or her own beliefs about the world.
The Alliance Theatre’s presentation of William Gibson’s Golda’s Balcony is a rare occurrence for Atlanta theatre. This production features many of the same staging elements as the original Broadway production from 2003. Most notably, Tovah Feldshuh, who originated the role on Broadway receiving a Drama Desk Award and Tony® Award Nomination, reprises the role of Golda Meir. It is a part that Feldshuh played through the show’s Broadway closing in 2005, making it the longest-running one-woman show ever to play on Broadway. The Alliance Theatre production also features Scott Schwartz’s original direction.
To assist Feldshuh in telling Meir’s story, the production’s simple set works well: a table with two chairs sit in the middle of the stage, a lectern sits on one side and some steps occupy the other side. Behind these items, images flash on the screen to accent the various stories being told. An effective touch to the staging, the images enhance the powerful emotions already being stirred by the play.
Set mainly in 1973, the play follows Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, giving a glimpse at her journey from a Russian immigrant in the U.S. to becoming an international political leader. The events of the play focus on the situations surrounding the Yom Kippur War. Throughout the play, Meir details phone calls, conversations (such as with Henry Kissinger), decisions and thoughts about the war, including the dilemma of whether or not to use nuclear weapons.
Feldshuh bounces between flashbacks of her early life and throughout the process she reenacts key conversations. Distinctly changing her voice, she distinguishes each character despite being in make-up and costume for Meir at all times. This structure for the play allows the audience to see not only the personal aspects of Meir’s life, but also sheds light on Meir as a public figure, echoing the dichotomy of the plays’ title.
“Golda’s balcony” refers to the observation area where she oversaw the nuclear weapon development in Dimona as well as the physical balcony of her home that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. Meir says, “I have two balconies in my life and this one has a view of the sea,” and later referring to Dimona, she declares, “The view from this balcony is a view into hell.”
As Meir, Feldshuh delivers a passionate, spell-binding performance. As just a single performer, she manages to hold the audience’s attention, deliver a range of emotions, and deal with distractions in the audience without skipping a beat. Most of all, she brings each person in the audience on the journey with her, drawing much empathy. Audience members laugh with her, weep with her and agonize with her.
One impressive aspect of the performance is the anguish Feldshuh portrays contemplating the choice of using nuclear weapons. Part smart writing but mostly skilled acting by Feldshuh, the scenes have the audience members sitting on the edge of their seats. Whether she is sick due to her decision or nervously anticipating a call from her ambassador to the U.S., she flawlessly creates the needed suspense.
Still relevant and just as powerful as it was when it opened on Broadway in 2003, the play provides a look into a world leader who has shaped the world we live in today. With an emotionally gripping staging, a captivating script and a commanding performance, Golda’s Balcony is a play that all theater-goers, both avid and occasional, should see. The play asks audience members to ponder for themselves one of Meir’s questions: “How many worlds are we entitled to destroy?”
Golda’s Balcony plays at the Alliance Theatre through October 30. The show’s running time is 90 minutes with no intermission. For more information or tickets, please visit the Alliance Theatre website.
– A. Wesley