After opening runs in Lenox, Massachusetts and Boston, and four sold-out months Off Broadway, “Golda’s Balcony,” the play about Golda Meir’s life, has found a Broadway home. The New York version stars powerhouse Tovah Feldshuh, who fills that large space just as well as she did the smaller one, which seemed barely able to contain her. The play began its life in 1977 on Broadway as an unsuccessful ensemble piece starring Anne Bancroft, but playwright William Gibson has rendered it down to its most essential element: Golda herself The rest of the cast—Moshe Dayan, David Ben-Gurion, Shimon Peres, Anwar Sadat and the rest of the men Golda worked with and against as prime minister—are conjured up by shifts in Feldshuh’s accent and in photographs projected onto the walls of her shabby room. Feldshuh’s imitation of Henry Kissinger is reason enough to buy tickets.
As the play races from one end of Golda’s roller-coaster life to the other, we hurtle along with it, thanks to Feldshuh’s inspired performance. First in a bathrobe and then a dowdy suit, near death and still chain smoking, Golda takes us from her Wisconsin girlhood to a heartbreaking scene in which she convinces Holocaust survivors interned on Cyprus to send their children to Israel ahead of them. The play reaches its climax when Feldshuh re-enacts Golda’s angst over whether to authorize the use of nuclear weapons during the 1973 Yom Kippur War against Syria and Egypt. (The bombs were built underground in a secret location called “Golda’s Balcony”) It’s hard not to wonder, knowing how much the Sate of Israel meant to her, if Golda was as tortured as the script requires. When she ultimately saves Israel by threatening to use the weapons unless the United States gives her another way to defend her outnumbered, overpowered country, it’s clear how far Golda was willing to go for her truest love.