BWW Reviews: Taking a Stand - GOLDA'S BALCONY at Vagabond Players
"Golda's Balcony" at Vagabond Players/ Review by Guest Blogger Mark Squirek
An evening of steely fire and inspiration, quiet and grace, Golda's Balcony is the story of Golda Meir as she struggles to deal with the world-shattering possibilities of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
It is a story of kings and presidents, grandchildren and generals. At the heart of it is a lone woman, our story-teller. She has risen to power among through skill, intelligence and a fierce drive to do what is right for her people.
About halfway through the evening, Meir is talking about her dealings with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
"Kissinger, a world power in person. Warned me 'I am first of all, an American. Secondly I am the Secretary of State of The United States. And lastly I am a Jew.' I said, 'That's fine, we read from right to left.' "
Her reply isn't dismissive nor is it the manipulations of a bully, stomping their feet that "this isn't fair" until they finally get their own way by wearing the opposition down.
This is real power. This is unflinching poise under pressure.
Her conversation with Kissinger is chicken soup for the soulless that bombed Cambodia. A meal served by a statesperson who was known to actually serve chicken soup to her own troops.
This is true power that stands toe to toe with the most important people on the planet. This is true power that carries the responsibility for hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives on their shoulders.
By the end of the evening she stands as she started, still alone. But still steadfast in her commitment to do what she must to protect the people she serves.
In Golda's Balcony, now running at Vagabonds Theatre, that earth-changing power first walks onstage comfortably clad in a bathrobe wearing the thick stockings and comfortable shoes of a grandmother.
She lights a cigarette and with a wry smile, informs us that she is dying. Or so she has been told...
In this simple declaration, made with the hint of a wry smile, and delivered from the comfort of a kitchen chair, Amy Jo Shapiro captures the complexity, the humor, the power and of Golda Meir.
It's all in that smile. It is at once filled with acceptance but conspiratorial and a light touch of mischief just the same.
Working closely with Director Miriam Bazensky, Shapiro gives us a portrayal of Meir that is born of intelligence and stoked in the fire of real combat and desperate desire. It is a performance grounded in humility and leavened by a deep understanding of what it means to be human, what it means to be responsible.
Throughout the evening Shapiro pulls us deeper and deeper into the heart and mind of Meir. In a matter of mere seconds she shows us regret, anger, passion, pride and frustration not as mere notes to be hit in a score, but as palpable emotions that move logically and fluidly from the soul of a very real person.
Anchored by the events of the Yom Kippur War, playwright William Gibson moves Meir's story across time. Random moments from Meir's life drift in and out of her memories while at the same time she navigates the complexities of her involvement in the War.
As she fields calls from panicked generals and reluctant administrators, we also see the world leader as a headstrong daughter and then as a young woman thrilled at the exchange of ideas being thrown around an apartment in Milwaukee.
Meir butts head with her father over her decision to stand and preach in the town. Her mother meets her future husband and walks away unimpressed suggesting another groom may be a better fit for her daughter. Meir's sister proves to be even bossier than her Mother was.
Before us Meir is becoming the sum accumulation of her experiences. And as her land is under attack, she has to draw strength from those memories in order to preserve her present and her grandchildren's future.
Meir's hardest and most conflicted feelings come for her husband Morris. A man she truly loved and one who, on certain occasions, seemed oblivious to what his wife was doing. He loved music and her continuing discomfort when she hears it drifting in complicates her memories of the man.
In a story centered on war, Shapiro's silences after she speaks of Morris are the loudest moments of the evening.
As Gibson moves us to the hardest decisions of Meir's life, the timeline becomes whole as we see how she got the strength, the power and the vision to do what she must in the Yom Kippur War.
This is not just a story of modern history but a treatise on personal growth as well as the power of the choices we make in our lives.
Director Bazensky quietly guides the movement and actor in harmony with Gibson's unwinding narrative. Every choice the director has made is in service only to the story she wants to tell. Her touch is never seen. Not one of her many decisions impose on Meir or what is unfolding before us.
This is beautiful stage production that, like the duality hidden in the title, is filled with moments of both quiet humility and earth-threatening swagger. Both world history and a deeply personal story build to one of the most terrifying moments of recent memory.
Golda's Balcony leaves an indelible impression on the heart, soul and mind. At the end of her life, we are left with one word that serves as a wish, a prayer, a touch of poetry and maybe even a bit of a command from the elder statesperson. For after having been through it all, she knows what is truly important on both the world stage and in our own hearts.
ABOUT MARK SQUIREK: A graduate of UMBC as well as The Players Workshop of Second City, Squirek has acted in, directed or written numerous plays over the last 25 years. In 2006 Broadway World named him Playwright of the Year for his one act SOD. He has worked at theaters in New York, Chicago, Baltimore and Washington D.C. For two years (2007-2009) he was on the Board at Mobtown. His most recent short story can be found in the just published anthology, Night Beat--a collection of fiction based on the 1950's NBC radio show centered on a night case reporter for a large Chicago newspaper. Squirek also regularly contributes to The New York Journal of Books.