As a child, Golda Meir wanted to make a speech at her synagogue. "When you're a man, you'll talk inside the synagogue," her father told her. It was oddly prophetic. She lived a man's life, serving as Israel's prime minister (1969–1974), forgoing family life for her work. In Tovah Feldshuh's startlingly true-to-life portrayal, Golda walks just like a man, smokes just like a man. But she grieves like a little girl, holding a bouquet of paper flowers a tiny boy had given her years before, now mourning his death in war.
In this 90-minute monologue, written by William Gibson and directed by Scott Schwartz, the spirit of a nation is embodied in the flesh and soul of these two women—the leader and the actor. Feldshuh creates the argumentative pre-teen Goldie, the young woman in love relaxing under a leafy sky, the new pioneer, the ambassador, the fresh prime minister, the well-worn retiree, the dying grandmother. She invites us into the essence of Golda, beyond the prosthetics of hefty nose and swollen, veiny legs. We experience the saucy: Golda wasn't a nun, she tells us. We chill at the sacred: a litany of Europe's concentration camps. We benefit from the practical: "S. Klein. Great bargains." We thrill at the power: "Never again!" she rails, and one might be tempted to believe her.
Feldshuh also portrays the iconic men of the era—the smooth British tones of Moshe Dayan, the flat growl of Henry Kissinger—the immigrants, the soldiers, the people of many nations whose lives intersected Golda's. Feldshuh's style of acting is not intimate, nor does it read as spontaneous, but it reveals Golda's thoughts and feelings with the precision of one of Golda's military strikes and sends it with love through the front rows to the back balcony seats.
Golda's balcony? She had two, she tells us. One provided her seaside view in Tel Aviv. The other was the observation platform at Dimona, Israel's nuclear plant. Poised to arm jet fighters, she looked down from each into the past and the future of Israel, a view only her eyes among many were capable of seeing and privileged to see.
Is the show blatant propaganda? Yes. But shouldn't every good play be, in one sense or another? Thanks to the production for coming to Los Angeles. Next year in Jerusalem.
"Golda's Balcony," presented by the Wadsworth Theatre and Geffen Playhouse at the Wadsworth Theatre, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Brentwood. Tue.-Thu. 7:30 pm, Fri. 8 pm, Sat. 4 & 8 pm, Sun. 3 & 7 pm. (Also Fri. 4 pm, Feb. 4; dark Feb. 6-8). Feb. 2-20. $20-64. (213) 365-3500.