By Michele Markarian
‘Golda’s Balcony’ – Written by William Gibson. Directed by Judy Braha. Presented by the New Repertory Theatre, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown through April 16.
Golda Meir was a fascinating character – passionate, driven, with a sense of personal destiny that was tied in to the “paradise” that she believed to be the State of Israel. Her early childhood was spent in Kiev, where she remembered her father boarding the door with wooden planks to keep out the pogroms. The family emigrated to Milwaukee, where the young Golda heard Ben Gurion speak, which marked the beginning of her life as a warrior and champion for the burgeoning State of Israel.
“This Golda, she has a dybbuk in her,” the family complained, and indeed, Golda seemed a personality hard to reign in. When her mother refused to let her go to high school, Golda moved to Colorado to live with her married sister, Sheyna. Sheyna’s home was frequented by intellectuals, and it was there that Golda met her future husband, the mild aesthete sign painter, Morris.
Golda didn’t want to get married – in marriage, she thought, she’d disappear. She agreed to marry Morris only if he’d move to what was then Palestine with her. He agreed, and they went to live on a kibbutz, which she loved, and he hated. They settled in Jerusalem, had two children, and embarked on what Golda called the worst years of her life. She felt she was destined for something bigger on the political stage, and left her children mostly in the care of her husband, who refused to give her a divorce. Here I was reminded of the writer Doris Lessing, who experienced similar feelings as a young mother in South Africa, before finally divorcing her husband, abandoning her children, and devoting much of her twenties to the ideal of Communism. Unlike Meir, Lessing grew disenchanted with Communism, had another baby, and settled into a writer’s life. Meir refused to give up the dream – her ideal – of paradise.
“We intend to live, our neighbors intend us to die. There’s not much room for compromise,” says Meir trenchantly. Much of the action of the play revolves around the Yom Kippur War, when Israel was attacked by both Egypt and Syria. Golda’s balcony refers to her perch in the underground building where nuclear weapons were being prepared, just in case. “What happens when idealism turns to power? It kills.” This was one tough cookie.
Whatever your feelings are about Golda Meir, Bobbi Steinbach’s performance is not to be missed. “She’s much prettier than Meir,” I thought cynically when she first came onstage, in a bathrobe and practical black shoes. But this is really an amazing performance. Steinbach not only portrays Meir, but a host of politicians – Moshe Dayan, Kissinger, Peres, among others – with voices so distinct that one can tell who is who just by the accent and inflection. Meir was a 60-cigarette a day smoker, and kudos to director Judy Braha and the New Rep for sanctioning real cigarettes – okay, maybe not real, but whatever was in them was lit and inhaled – onstage. There is nothing that pulls this audience member out of suspended disbelief more than an actor pretending to light a prop cigarette that doesn’t do anything. Dumb. But Steinbach smokes, paces, cracks the occasional joke, and occasionally makes us weep. She doesn’t play Golda Meir, she is Golda Meir. And this, theatergoing friends, is what makes theater art. For more info, go to: http://www.newrep.org/