A PASSIONATE PERFORMANCE Laub. [Photo by Richard W. Dionne, Jr.]
Stunning. As impressive as our top-shelf companies can be, rarely does the theatrical trifecta of play, performance, and direction pay off as bountifully as in the 2nd Story Theatre production of William Gibson’s Golda’s Balcony (through December 8). I was blown away.
Oddly but aptly performed in the courtroom-like setting of the Bristol Statehouse, it’s a compassionate indictment of our bellicose species and its rueful attempts at reconciling idealism and reluctant warfare.
The one-woman show, directed by Bryna Wortman, is deeply affecting, as Sandra Laub portrays Israel’s Golda Meir with passion but never histrionics. It’s set on the eve of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when the survival of her nation — and arguably the world’s Jewish people as an entity — was once again seriously in question.
A little history of the play is in order, to clarify its accomplishment. Gibson is best known for The Miracle Worker, which is about two other indomitable women, the deaf and blind Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan. He originally wrote a multi-character play about Meir, but it lacked focus and flopped. Twenty-five years later he revisited the interviews he conducted with Meir for his first attempt and fashioned this brisk 90-minute tour de force, which remains the longest-running one-woman show in Broadway history.
An additional layer of poignancy is provided by Golda speaking to us as a gray-haired old lady, “sick, dying. . . at the end of my story.” The beige support hose she wears shows a vulnerability that contrasts smartly with the upright stance of her determination. Video projections of people she discusses help make her narrative more vivid. Even though we know that the Jews survived, there is still a tension through the duration of this account, perhaps because the Holocaust remains a timeless echo in our consciousness rather than circumscribed in history.
Idealism bumping up against actuality is another thing we can relate to here. Born in Kiev, emigrating with her parents at age four she grew up in Milwaukee as Golda Mabovitch, eventually Hebraicizing her married name, Meyerson, to Meir when she became foreign minister. As Americanized as she was, a sustaining memory was her father’s description of nailing boards across a door in the face of a pogrom — pogroms were “the fashionable thing to do,” she wryly observes.
Even as a schoolgirl she was an independent rabble-rouser, making speeches, handing out pamphlets supporting Zionism, despite her father’s vehement opposition, and living in her own apartment at age 16. At 20 she married a soft-spoken Milwaukee sign painter named Morris, whom she dragged off to a kibbutz in Palestine in 1921. “I ruined his life also,” she admits to us.
Whatever we may think today about Israeli treatment of Palestinians or the persistent West Bank land grabs, no one can deny that the nation partitioned in 1947 faced annihilation by the surrounding nations who proudly vowed to accomplish just that. Prior to establishment of this haven for Jews, immigrants had to face such situations as being sidetracked to what Golda calls “concentration camps” in Cyprus — surrounded by barbed wire. The oil-producing countries had to be satisfied, she notes.