BWW Review: GOLDA'S BALCONY: Midwife at the Birth of the State of Israel
Written by William Gibson, Directed by Judy Braha; Scenic Designer, Jiyoung Han; Costume Designer, Penney Pinette; Lighting Designer, John Malinowski; Sound Designer, David Wilson; Projection Designer, Seaghan McKay; Stage Manager, Anna Turnham
CAST: Bobbie Steinbach
Golda Meir did not give birth to the State of Israel, but she was in the room when it happened. A Russian-born, American expatriate from Wisconsin, she emigrated to Palestine in 1921 with her husband Morris and her sister Sheyna, went to work on a kibbutz, and started her long journey to becoming one of the world's first elected female heads of state and one of the most important people in Israel's history. Playwright William Gibson chronicles Meir's life and times in Golda's Balcony, focusing primarily on the period of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Israel was attacked by Egypt and Syria. Twenty-five years after achieving Statehood and four years after Meir's ascension to Prime Minister, Israel faced an existential crisis of dire proportions.
As much as Golda's Balcony is high-stakes drama, it is also a first-person account of one woman's story, including her family, her pursuit of her lifelong dream, her disappointments, and her triumphs. The one-woman play uses flashbacks and a folksy, conversational style which ignores the fourth wall, bringing the audience right into Golda's world, and right onto her balcony. Portraying the inspirational, larger-than-life Zionist leader, the diminutive Bobbie Steinbach further cements her place in the pantheon of esteemed Boston theater artists with a tour de force performance that is passionate, fierce, intuitive, and packed with emotion. Steinbach steps into Meir's skin, wears it like her own for approximately ninety minutes, and never lets us see the actor behind the facade.
Under the skillful direction of Judy Braha, the pacing allows for ebbs and flows in tension as the drama of the war unfolds, interspersed with the narrative of Golda's upbringing and young adulthood, including the excitement of being in on the ground floor of the building of Israel. Steinbach energetically and enthusiastically portrays the early days, and seamlessly morphs into the older leader, visibly burdened by the heavy responsibility she bears, and physically sickened by the anguish she feels over a pending decision. The design elements - the sounds of bombers and bombs overhead or the ocean waves rolling in (David Wilson, sound design), the lighting shifts for dramatic effect (John Malinowski, lighting design), and subtle projection displays of sea crossings and a map of Israel (Seaghan McKay, projection design) - are of a piece that allow Jiyoung Han's simple scenic design to represent any and every location, from a classroom to a kibbutz, from a convention hall to the halls of the Knesset, from a Tel Aviv apartment balcony to the balcony overlooking a nuclear arsenal in the Negev Desert.
Golda's Balcony set a record as the longest-running one-woman play in Broadway history on January 2, 2005, after 493 performances. It is the final show in New Repertory Theatre's Prophetic Portraits Series, following Thurgood and Brecht on Brecht, examining historic figures who made significant impacts on the world. It showcases Golda Meir's idealism, strength, intelligence, and powerful spirit. Imagine what it would be like to have a woman of that caliber leading our nation today. Imagine.
Photo credit: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures (Bobbie Steinbach)