Monday, October 24, 2011

Powerful 'Golda's Balcony' barrels through Meir's biography

Posted By on Mon, Oct 24, 2011 at 1:40 PM

SMOKE EM IF YOU GOT EM: Tovah Feldshuh as Golda Meir
Golda’s Balcony became the longest-running one-woman show in Broadway history in 2004. Actress Tovah Feldshuh seems to speed up, rather than slow down, for the Alliance Theatre’s new performance. The four-time Tony nominee physically disappears beneath make-up and padding to play Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, but the septuagenarian costume cannot restrain Feldshuh’s Broadway diva energies.

In Golda’s Balcony, the prime minster flashes back and forth between the dark days of the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the highlights of her life. An underappreciated feminist icon, Meir grows from Zionist Milwaukee high schooler to unhappy Jerusalem homemaker to one of the architects of Israel as an independent nation. As written by William Gibson, the play conceives Meir as half Iron Lady, half Jewish mother, prone to quips about matzo balls and the kind of open-armed shrugs that say “Go figure!”

Unless you’re already versed in Israeli history, you have to give Golda’s Balcony the benefit of the doubt that the real Meir would share her stories and play-act the various personalities in such a broad, rapid-fire fashion. When Meir imitates the likes of her disapproving mother or the heavy-accented Henry Kissinger, Feldshuh adapts an almost Robin Williams-esque patter that occasionally steps on her own punch lines. Given that Golda’s Balcony dwells on the darkest chapters of 20th century Jewish history, the humorous moments humanize Meir and provide welcome comic relief, but the jarring tonal shifts undercut the overall narrative. The cheesy video projection, particularly in a scene with some computer-animated jet fighters, doesn’t help.

The play tends to lurch between the scenes in the 1973 war room and earlier moments of her life, darkly foreshadowing that the secrets of “Dimona” and Golda’s balcony will be revealed all in due time. Nevertheless, the account of the Yom Kippur War proves genuinely gripping as the Israelis find themselves surrounded and outgunned by their Arab enemies, and Meir contemplates resorting to a drastic action to prevent “the Fall of the Third Temple,” i.e. the destruction of the state of Israel. The last third of the 90 minute play comes across like a Middle Eastern equivalent to The Missiles of October.

Golda’s Balcony is clearly a deeply-felt work that features many powerful segments, particularly in a scene in the late 1940s, when Meir visits an overcrowded Jewish refugee camp in Cyprus and tries to convince adults to relinquish their tickets to Palestine to Jewish children. Golda’s Balcony presents an ultimately moving portrait of Meir as Israel’s midwife and conscience, a leader sensitive to her nation’s arch-enemies. (A line near the end implies that Meir supported a Palestinian state.) At times Feldshuh seems like she’s trying to upstage her own subject. During a Sunday matinee curtain call she mentioned her new DVD about the show and encouraged audiences to "Take a piece of Golda home with you." Feldshuh. But even when her showmanship seems misdirected, Feldshuh's passion for Golda Meir's story leaves no one in the playhouse unmoved.

Golda’s Balcony. Through Oct. 30. The Alliance Theatre, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-733-5000, www.woodruffcentertickets.org

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