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Golda's Balcony

a Monologue
by William Gibson

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Woodruff Art Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 4160

SHOWING : October 12, 2011 - October 30, 2011



The play follows the life of Golda Meir – from Russian immigrant to American schoolteacher to the epicenter of international politics as the fourth Prime Minister of Israel. Gibson's drama pits Meir against Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger with the threatened launch of nuclear weapons against her enemies, unless the U.S. comes to her country’s aid. In turn deeply funny and frighteningly prescient, Golda’s Balcony poses the altogether too contemporary question of What if the Middle East exploded?

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Woman of Iron
by Dedalus
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
“Golda’s Balcony” has a history almost as complex and surprising as, well, as the life of a shtetl refugee turned Milwaukee school teacher turned Prime Minister of Israel. Originally commissioned by Ms. Meir herself (who wanted “that boy who wrote ‘Miracle Worker’” to dramatize her life), it first saw life as “Golda,” a short-lived 1977 piece that earned praise for its star (Anne Bancroft), but little else. Indeed, reading the script of “Golda” today, with its large and rambling cast of multi-role actors and “witnesses,” one wonders what any director could have done to make it work. Rather than let the subject rest in peace (Ms. Meir succumbed to lymphatic cancer in 1978), Mr. Gibson reconceived the piece as a monologue (“Golda’s Balcony”) for a single actress, brought it back to Broadway in 2003 with Tovah Feldshuh in the title role, and it became the longest-running one-character play in Broadway history.

The Alliance Theatre recently brought Ms. Feldshuh to Atlanta for a short run, and, I have to say, I found it a most effective (and brilliantly acted) piece of work. I guess my chief regret is waiting this long (almost a full month) to finally write about it.

Following the basic structure of the original play, “Golda’s Balcony” uses the 1973 Yom Kippur War as a framing device to recreate the life of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, as filtered through her own memories and recreations. Born in 1898 in Kiev to a struggling carpenter, the family soon fled Russia in the wake of pogroms. Settling in Milwaukee, the Mabovitch family ran a small grocery store, and young Golda grew up as a typical (albeit politically precocious) first-generation American.

While in high school, she became interested in the Zionist movement before becoming a teacher in the Milwaukee public school system. Eventually, she married an intellectual “Sign Painter” (Morris Myerson) and the couple moved to a kibbutz in Palestine. It wasn’t long before her political activities dominated her life, and, eventually, she is made Prime Minister of Israel in 1969.

Rather than becoming a dry theatrical biography, though, this play shows us a woman at a crossroads, a woman under extreme pressure who is not afraid to face her past, and her shortcomings (she freely admits to being a “terrible wife and mother”). The play is well-constructed, with “flashbacks” arising naturally out of certain current situations. We see how this “woman of iron” makes extremely difficult and painful decisions, and we also see the “life history” that made this strength, these decisions possible. She knows her small country, nestled amongst a host of enemies, cannot survive without America’s help (as her enemies have full access to Soviet money and equipment), and she is able to go toe-to-toe with the America of Nixon and Kissinger to get the help she needs to prevail.

The play has all the drama of a tense political thriller (even though, historically, we already know the outcome), without sacrificing the small details that bring a person’s life to, well, to life for a theatre audience. I particularly enjoyed the affectionately stereotypical portrayal of Golda’s mother, the occasional lapses into a mid-western dialect, the moments of rueful memory, particularly the memory of a boy in a post-Holocaust refugee camp giving her a bouquet of flowers made of paper – a memory engendered by the death of that boy (now an adult) in the battle.

Ms. Feldshuh is quite simply remarkable in this role, able to cover a wide range of emotion and memory. I particularly liked how she showed us not herself portraying the various characters in Golda Meir’s life, but Ms. Meir herself playing those roles. It’s a subtlety I hope wasn’t lost on the audience. Staged in a (mostly) bare black space, the lights focus our full attention on the remarkable woman sharing her life story.

“Golda’s Balcony” refers to a very specific location in Israel’s Nuclear Arms facility, but it also evokes our theatrical memories of “Evita,” an evocation purposefully fed by the program portrait of Ms. Feldshuh holding her arms up in a “Don’t Cry for me, Israel” pose. But that evocation may be an injustice. “Golda’s balcony” is NOT a musical portrait of a woman intoxicated with power, but a dramatic portrait of one thrust upon the world stage, one with a strong, almost fanatical goal of survival for her country, one who sacrifices home and hearth to achieve that goal, one who is even willing to engage in high-stakes diplomatic blackmail to achieve her goals. And, in Ms. Feldshuh’s very capable hands, it’s a portrait that was exhilarating to witness and compelling to remember.

Don’t cry for Golda or for Israel. Cry for yourself if you missed this remarkable play.

-- Brad Rudy (



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