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A CurtainUp Review
Golda's Balcony

Golda Moves to Broadway

Tovah Feldshuh as Golda Meir
Tovah Feldshuh as Golda Meir
(Photo: Aaron Epstein)
William Gibson and Golda Meier have been on a long theatrical journey together. In 1977 his first biographical take on the Israeli prime minister opened at the Morosco, with a sizeable cast headed by Anne Bancroft. It played just three months. Then, under the auspices of the Lenox based Shakespeare & Company's play development program, Gibson rewrote his original version as a one-person monologue. The production of that play turned into a major Shakespeare & Co. hit, running for the entire season.

Last year the Off-Off-Broadway Manhattan Ensemble Theater mounted its own version of that solo play, this time with Tovah Feldshuh in the title role. Feldshuh's performance drew raves. The show again extended innumerable times and talk of a Broadway transfer has now become a reality. Rather than to report on the play from a third time around perspective and through the eyes of an older theater goer (typical of the bulk of this play's audience), I asked one of CurtainUp's twenty-something critics, Amanda Cooper to review the show now at the Helen Hayes. (and the second for this production), I asked Amanda Cooper provides went to see the Broadway production The Helen Hayes, being one of Broadway's most intimate houses should make for a comfortable fit.

Golda's Balcony at the Helen Hayes
By Amanda Cooper

Tovah Feldshuh is a force to be reckoned with so it should come as no surprise that Ms. Feldshuh says, "It's as if my whole life as an actress has led to this moment" -- this moment of her once again sending us onto the roller-coaster that was Golda Meir's life, with an integral cabinet meeting during the 6-day war used as a landing-and-launching pad to progress the personal and public story.

The play's title refers to the two balconies in her life: the one in her apartment, which overlooked Israel's prospering community development, and the one underground in the desert, which overlooked Israel's development for potential community destruction. Throughout the play, we learn of the two sides to Golda's political life. There is the public, grassroots, kibbutz-ethic Golda and the Golda who privately oversees the most destructive of man's creations -- nuclear weapons.

Feldshuh plays the role with a strength and fervor which commands complete attention. With an inner fire that is palpable, she jaggedly paces around Anna Louizos effective Middle Eastern cavelike set . Some of the flashier elements of the production seem more useful than others. The projected maps and photos by Batwin and Robin Productions become educational, and generally help us keep up with the fast plot. On the other hand, a bird's eye view of flying through the desert as well as a small chicken projection, and a mechanical set feels more like Broadway padding.

William Gibson's play remains engaging and moving. But from beginning to end the pace is staggering, and the first fifteen minutes feels like a constant game of catch-up for the audience. Perhaps Golda's life is too much to condense into 85 minutes. I left with the feeling that two separate one-acts would give the time and emotional breathing room to dig deeper into this life without needing to break any speed records.

I found the weakest point in this strong production to be the blocking. Though Ms. Feldshuh may have made certain choices, Scott Schwartz as the director should have controlled some of the repetitive gestures and constant table-grabbing.

Golda's Balcony should be seen by a broader and younger audience than the mostly older Jewish women who filled the house at the performance I attended. In these times of war and its fallout, historical dramas such as this can provide us with an eye-opening experience. In many ways, this is a far better 9/11 response play than the trio of productions brought to Manhattan this season.

PRODUCTION NOTES Except for the address, and ticket prices, the production notes are exactly as listed at the end of the Off-Broadway review that follows the text in this box. GOLDA'S BALCONY
Helen Hayes, 240 W. 44th St., (7th/8th Ave) 239-62000
From 10/04/03; with a 10/15/03 opening.
Last Performance (before going on tour, with LA the first stop): 1/02/05 -- with a perfect 500+ performance record for Tova Feldshuh. Performances Tues through Fri @ 8:00PM, Sat @ 5:00PM & 8:30PM, Wed & Sun @ 3:00PM
Tickets: $76.25 & $46.25
Reviewed by Amanda Cooper based on October 22nd performance

---Elyse Sommer's Review of Golda' s Balcony When It Opened Off-Broadway ---

The picture you have of me as Momala Golda who makes chicken soup for the soldiers, it's a nice picture and I do make chicken soup, but let's empty it all out for keeps, right now. At the bottom of the pot is blood
--- William Gibson's Golda contemplating the awesome decisions as Prime Minister during one of Israel's darkest hours.
When I reviewed Golda's Balcony during it's premiere run at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, MA I didn't think it could get any more timely than during that post-9/11 summer season. Alas, seeing the play five days into the US and Great Britain's war with Iraq, watching Golda Meir agonizing over the climactic situation of the 1973 Yom Kippur War hits home even harder.

On a happier note, Manhattan Ensemble Theater's new production is striking enough so that even if, like me, you saw the play during its earlier run in the Berkshires, it's well worth seeing again. The script has been slightly revised since William Gibson pared it from a multi-character Broadway flop to a solo play during one of Shakespeare & Company's workshop programs. Though ten minutes shorter it remains essentially the same predictably partisan text. Therefore, rather than repeat the trajectory of Golda's ruminations, I suggest that you click to the original review. Reading it you'll also understand how a play like this can work with very different acting and staging approaches.

Annette Miller, the first Golda I saw, created her portrait without any attempt to make herself look like Golda Meir. Her intention was made clear in her opening line: "No wig. No swollen legs. No false nose. Use your imagination." (A line now replaced by the quote at the top of this review about the blood at the bottom of the pots of soup Golda Meir is reputed to have cooked for Israeli soldiers). As Cherry Jones in Pride's Crossing (review of that 1997 play) transformed herself from young girl to ninety-year-old woman without any concessions to makeup, so Miller made us see Golda even though she made no effort to physically look like her. Her director, Daniel Gidron, supported this with minimalist stagecraft. It was an approach that suited the venue.

Tovah Feldshuh and director Scott Schwartz have opted to do Golda's Balcony with more theatrical bells and whistles . The usually glamorous Tovah has been made up to be more of a Golda look-alike -- wig, leg-thickening stockings, nose makeup. The production values too are much more elaborate. While Ms. Miller's portrayal may sound like more of an actorly feat, this is less a case of who's better but of vive la difference. Ms. Feldshuh is a riveting Golda, Schwartz's direction keeps her moving just enough and the stagecraft makes for the sort of full-bodied theatricality often missing from a one-person play.

Anna Louizos' wood and stone set has the aura of a bunker. The blocks of wood-like material framing the platform that serves as Golda's room do double duty as screens for Batwin& Robin Productions to project photos of people as their names come up. An image of Meir's late husband projected on the back of a chair creates an eerie sense of his actually sitting across the table from his wife. Howell Binkley's lighting evokes the gloom and doom of this dark night in Golda's and Israel's life, and also act bring glimmers of sunshine to her face during her more light-hearted reflections. With the sound of gunfire and planes all over our TV screens, sound designer Mark Bennett's war sounds are disturbingly familiar.

To add an unexpected realistic touch to the press performance I attended, a woman in the audience collapsed just as the stage Golda was about to act on her self-questioning "How many worlds are you entitled to destroy?" Trooper that she is, as soon as this emergency was dealt with, Ms. Feldshuh dryly commented "If we can't help a human being out, we're nothing." She then went on with the show which epitomizes the theater's ability to help us to try to make sense of human beings who too often do awful things to each other.

Golda's Balcony

Written by William Gibson
Directed by Scott Schwartz
Cast:Tovah Feldshuh as Golda Meir
Set Design: Anna Louizos
Costume Design: Jess Goldstein
Lighting Design: Howell Binkley
Original Music & Sound Design: Mark Bennett
Projection Design: Batwin & Robin Productions
Wig Design: Paul Huntley
Makeup: John Caglione, Jr.
Running time: 80 Minutes, without intermission
Manhattan Ensemble Theater, Mercer Street New (at Broome Street) 239-62000 web site
2/17/03-4/27/03; opening 3/264/03 -- extended to 5/11/03 and again to 6/01/03--and yet again to 7/06/03
Wed & Sun @ 7PM, Thurs- Sat @ 8PM, Wed & Sun @ 3PM, Sat @ 5PM-- Tues-Thurs $50, Fri-Sun $55

Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on performance

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