New Rep's "Golda's Balcony": Hitting Pay Dirt with Golda Dust?

Bobbie Steinbach in "Golda's Balcony"
(photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures)

Golda's Balcony, a 2003 one-person play by the late William Gibson, first saw the theatrical light of day in an earlier version titled Golda , essentially a vehicle for the actress Anne Bancroft, back in 1977, which played pre-Broadway in Boston (remember those days?). Gibson had previously worked with Bancroft in her Broadway debut, Two for the Seesaw, in 1958, and again in the unforgettable The Miracle Worker in 1959, so hopes were high that this would be yet another successful collaboration, but it was not to be (though it garnered a Tony Award nomination for Bancroft). More than twenty five years later, Gibson decided to dust off the cobwebs and rework his play and presented the rewritten version, a successful effort this time, which would become the longest running one-woman show in Broadway history, now appearing on the stage at New Rep. In its current form, it remains a solo vehicle for an actress, Bobbie Steinbach, as Golda, having last appeared at New Rep as Yente in Fiddler on the Roof.

As the name implies, this is the history (or herstory) of the American schoolteacher (born in Kiev, thus an immigrant to our then-welcoming country) from Wisconsin who became the fourth (and first female) Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir. Towards the end of the play, the title is revealed as a reference to the balcony area where visiting VIPS could observe the activity in Israel's secretive Dimona nuclear weapons facility. Therein lies the conundrum: while Meir's life was a fascinating one, bringing her life to the stage is another matter. Gibson himself stated that at the core of his theme was the question: “What happens when idealism becomes power?”, and in this work that query remains unanswered. This production is Directed by Judy Braha, with Scenic Design (a table, chairs, stools and seemingly hundreds of military boots under a multi-level playing area) by JiYoung Han, Costume Design (a single house dress) by Penney Pinette, Lighting Design by John Malinowski, Sound Design by David Wilson, and Projection Design by Seaghan McKay.

With this hundred-minute portrayal, has New Rep truly hit pay dirt? On the plus side, there is the drama of the plight of the children in Cyprus and the dilemma of whether to use nuclear weaponry in a preemptive strike to which there would be a response of worldwide destruction; on the negative side, there is too much didactic verbiage bordering on a polemic. In the end, one's involvement in this work may well depend on how vested one is, especially those who have Jewish ancestry. (It's of interest, though, that the author of this Israel-centric play was raised by his Irish Catholic mother). It's unsettling, in any case, to see in its final scene what almost threatens to be a glorification of war rather than peace. Golda herself is quoted in this regard: “to save a world you create...how many worlds are you entitled to destroy?”. The play, however, ends with the one word and concept it fundamentally fails to promote: shalom.

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