2nd Story’s Laub stunning in ‘Golda’s Balcony’
by Channing Gray, Providence Journal
It’s 1973, the Yom Kippur War is raging, and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir is desperate to save her country.
So begins “Golda’s Balcony,” a riveting one-woman tour de force that 2nd Story Theatre has brought to the old Bristol Statehouse.
This 90-minute show uses the Yom Kippur War as an anchor, then veers off into Meir’s childhood in Milwaukee and her broken relationship with husband Morris, a gentle soul who loved books and music and had no taste for politics.
But before saying any more about this dense, fascinating play by William Gibson, author of “The Miracle Worker,” it should be noted that Sandra Laub is fabulous as Meir, an actress who captures Meir’s idealistic drive as well as her humanness and humor. Laub holds the room but never resorts to grandstanding.
It should also be said that Gibson, who died in 2008, proves himself a master playwright here, a writer who knows how to breathe life into a character. True, it’s often hard to keep up with all the history he throws at us, but when you leave the theater you feel you know Golda Meir, both as a world leader and as a woman who is not so different from any of us, with heartaches and regrets.
Gibson’s take on Meir first hit the stage in the late 1970s with a cast of 20. Anne Bancroft played the Israeli leader, but the show flopped. Then a quarter-century later, he pared it down to the one-woman format and had a hit on his hands. “Golda’s Balcony” became the longest running one-woman show in Broadway history.
The play actually starts with Meir at the end of her life, old, tired and dying of cancer. She has a little time with the audience and wants to share her story, which begins in her teen years in Milwaukee where she was a Zionist rabble-rouser. That’s when she meets Morris, insisting that if he wants to marry her he’ll have to move to a kibbutz in Palestine.
But the marriage sours as Meir gets more involved in politics. She spends a few grim years living in a cramped flat in Jerusalem with her family, before announcing she is leaving to pursue the one thing that made her life meaningful — fighting for the state of Israel.
But Gibson’s Meir also realizes that there is a downside to idealism. In one of the many memorable lines in the play, she talks about cooking chicken soup for her soldiers, adding that there was blood at the bottom of the pot.
As we learn about Meir’s rise to power, her fundraising tour of America when she raised $50 million to arm Israel in the late 1940s, there are constant phone calls to Henry Kissinger begging for aid during the Yom Kippur battle. As things become desperate, she plays an ace.
The title of the play comes from a reference to the watch tower that oversaw an underground nuclear enrichment plant. It was dubbed Golda’s Balcony.
Director Bryna Wortman keeps the show tight. Slides of world leaders and maps of the Middle East appear on the rear wall as the play unfolds.
You don’t have to be a fan of Israel or a history buff to enjoy this play, though. Laub’s performance alone is worth the price of admission.
But it’s hard not to be interested in Meir’s story, the story of a driven, all-too-human leader who in one lifetime went from witnessing her father boarding up their windows in Russia to stave off the pogroms to carving out a home for her people.