Caught off guard by the start of the Yom Kippur War, Prime Minister Golda Meir sensed impending destruction for Israel. “Call [U.S. Secretary of State Henry] Kissinger,” Meir commands a diplomat on the phone. “Wake him up. Does he know the Soviets are airlifting to Damascus?”
In Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre’s production of Golda’s Balcony, Meir sits at a table, smokes cigarettes and recounts how she, an immigrant to the United States, became the fourth prime minister of Israel.
Written by William Gibson (The Miracle Worker) and directed by Carl Walker, Golda’s Balcony is a one-woman show dramatizing Meir’s life. She was born in Kiev, Ukraine (then under the control of imperial Russia) and her family immigrated to Milwaukee to escape anti-Semitic persecution. As a teenager, Meir briefly lived with her sister in Denver and became an active Zionist. In Denver, Meir also met the man who would become her husband and later the two moved to Palestine. The show’s narrative combines Meir’s personal and political thoughts. Meir struggles to balance family life - she had two children - with her drive to help create a state for Jewish people.
[jump]Clare Moncrief gave a captivating performance that went from joking about political intrigue (there are great moments of levity) to weeping over lost lives. Meir’s intense political dealings weigh on her and cause a rift in her family. Even world leaders want to take their children to band practice. Golda’s “second balcony” refers to an underground facility where - the show asserts - Israel developed materials for a nuclear bomb. The pressure never abates for Meir and the heaviness of her life’s work was palpable.
In a one-person show, there is nowhere to hide, and Moncrief met the challenge head on with great control and power. In a moving scene, Meir listed the names of Nazi concentration camps. The woman sitting next to me cried for the latter part of the show as Meir’s story documented the horrors inflicted on Jews in the 20th century. There were no pauses for Moncrief, and her performance was full of energy and dignity.
The minimal set featured some exposed brick and a table at center stage. Photos were projected on a wall behind Moncrief; some added to the piece, but others were distracting.
Though driven by the drama of war, Golda’s Balcony is ultimately about survival and the extraordinary sacrifices it can require. The show dramatizes history in a compelling way while serving as an important reminder of grave events.