WOMEN’S THEATRE FESTIVAL: Golda’s Balcony
A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis
At: TheatreLab, The Basement, 300 E. Broad St, RVA 23219
Performances: March 28, April 3, 7, 13 & 18, 2019
Ticket Prices: $25 general admission; $20 for RAPT card holders; $15 for students
Info: (804) 359-2003 or 5thwalltheatre.org
Isaiah 56:5 (NIV)
to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever.
Golda’s Balcony, a one-woman play about the Israeli stateswoman, Golda Meir, is a heart-touching work of historical fiction by William Gibson. Written in 2003, Golda’s Balcony was Gibson’s second attempt to capture Meir on stage; he was not quite satisfied with his earlier multi-character work, Golda (1977) and it is said that Meir herself saw it and hated it. Meir died in 1978 of lymphoma, and so never got a chance to see Golda’s Balcony.
This is not a pretty play. It is full of war: talk of war; sounds of war; thoughts, feelings, results, and regrets of war. It begins with the start off the Yom Kippur War, in 1973 and Meir, played with heart and gusto by none other than Jacqueline Jones, is clad in a bathrobe, looking every inch the Jewish grandmother. This image is soon dispelled, however, as she is thrust into the midst of an unending and seemingly unwinnable (by either side) war. She sheds the bathrobe for a power suit and takes up the banner of the Jewish state of Israel.
“Survival is maybe a synonym for Jewish,” Meir says at one point. Later, she conjures up the image of a biblical “Abraham messing around with the house maid” being responsible for the ongoing political and religious conflict of two groups of people fighting over one piece of land.
Jones owns this role. During the talkback following the final showing of this work, director Debra Clinton, who worked with Jones during her first performance of this show at Weinstein JCC in 2010, said that the passing of time had made Jones even better in this role, and that at times – when she leaned across the Prime Minister’s desk, for example – she actually looked like Meir. I personally think Jones looks much softer than the images I’ve seen of Golda Meir, but nonetheless, her performance was both emotionally charged and historically eye-opening.
Playwright Gibson, director Clinton, and Jones presented tough, controversial subject matter in a way that opened a door onto the humanity of a world leader – and more than that, they offered insight into a woman operating in a man’s world. Among many nicknames – some less flattering than others – Meir was known as the Iron Lady of Israeli politics and the best man in government.
“We intend to live. Our neighbors intend for us to die. There’s not much room for compromise.” These words refer to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but seem to apply as well to recent and current headlines in the US and right here in the state of Virginia.
Golda’s Balcony – a term that refers both to the physical balcony on which the elderly Meir sat to tell this story and to the nickname for Meir’s nuclear weapons facility – is not without moments of humor. Periodically, as melancholy cello music plays, Jones breaks the fourth wall to snap, “I can do without that music.” Near the end of the journey – about ninety minutes of intense drama, with no intermission – we learn that the music is connected to both Meir’s husband, Morris, who was a music lover, and her son, Menachem Meyerson, who was a professional cellist. The story-telling was both a powerful tribute to women, and a heartfelt performance by Jones.
The quartet of one-woman shows that made up the Women’s Theatre Festival concludes with final productions of Margaret Joyner’s Message from a Slave starring Pamela Archer-Shaw on April 19 and Theresa Rebeck’s Bad Dates starring Maggie Bavolack on April 20. Charlayne Woodard’s Pretty Fire, starring Haliya Roberts, closed April 17. I believe the Women’s Theatre Festival – a co-production of 5th Wall Theatre (Carol Piersol) and TheatreLAB (Deejay Gray) was a new concept here in Richmond, but I hope it won’t be a one-time event. The stories were compelling, the performances stellar, and I hope new audiences were introduced to the richness of Richmond theater.
Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.
Photo Credits: Destiny Martinez Photography