Through May 20 at GableStage at the Biltmore
In her memoirs Golda Meir tells the story of how as a teenager in Milwaukee she used to stand on a soapbox outside her local synagogue and preach the Zionist cause. When her father learned of this, he threatened to drag her home by her braid for shaming the family. But Golda’s oratory abilities were so engaging that on the day her father meant to drag her home, he was spellbound by her speech and vowed to never stop her from speaking publicly again.
This and other childhood stories are intertwined in William Gibson’s one-woman play Golda’s Balcony, now at the GableStage. The legendary soapbox speaker developed into a world leader and Israel’s first Female Prime Minister. The play charts Golda’s life story while unrolling the drama of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, a conflict that found Israel unexpectedly attacked by Egypt and Syria.
Actress Lisa Morgan (pictured) has big shoes to fill. Golda was performed by Valerie Harper on tour just last year and originated on Broadway with Tova Feldshuh’s Tony-nominated performance. Yet Morgan tackles the meaty role with gusto, confidently puffing a cigarette as the play opens and never once backing down from the roller coaster of emotions encompassed in the 75-minute drama. From Golda’s recounting visits with Holocaust survivors in DP camps to her childhood romance and failed marriage to Morris Meyerson, her only husband, Morgan adequately embodies the woman David Ben-Gurion famously called “the only man in my cabinet.”
There are various polemic gems strewn throughout the play such as Golda’s dark realization that “survival is maybe a synonym for Jewish.” And when recounting her uncompromising secret meeting with Jordan’s King Hussein on the eve of Israel’s War of Independence, “There will only be peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate ours.”
The one caveat to Morgan’s otherwise captivating performance is that her rushed cadence combined with the lack of a Midwestern-Milwaukee accent does not adequately reflect the Golda seen in archival footage. But under GableStage Artistic Director Joseph Adler’s direction, Morgan’s portrayal captures both the humanity and worldliness of this accomplished woman. Adler’s direction also makes great use of the stage, even breaking the fourth wall, and the play has blessedly light moments as well.
Tim Connelly’s set design is functional and evocative, depicting the Jerusalem stone of Israel’s Knesset, the parliament building, and Meir’s modest 70’s era office, replete with ponderous black rotary phone, the site of frantic phone calls to America for reinforcements during the war.
As a testament to woman for whom “Zion was the one great love” Golda’s Balcony is a riveting piece of theater, balancing both the complicated drama of world politics and the story of a woman who changed history.
Photo: George Schiavone