The 23rd Annual Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festival features several solo shows. Plays like Maestro, A Jewish Joke and The Blessing of a Broken Heart involve real and fictitious Jewish people and their unique tales. The Artistic Director of this annual event, Todd Salovey, is also responsible for the new staging of Golda’s Balcony at New Village Arts Theatre starring the acclaimed actress, Rosina Reynolds.
Reynolds plays Golda Meir, the fourth Prime Minister of Israel. In an introduction, Golda is dying from lymphoma. She thinks about her past and reflects about her personal life and professional accomplishments.
Mary Larson’s costumes help set the tone for early scenes. When Golda is introduced, she is in a sickly state and appears to be only wearing a bathrobe. Once she starts discussing her youth, she removes the robe revealing her business attire. The clever change of clothes, adds to the believability of Golda’s going back in time. As she transforms into her energetic youth, the mood of the evening becomes more vibrant.
Playwright, William Gibson, throws a lot of information at the audience. There are moments where a single sentence can contain several facts about the creation of Israel, the Six-Day War and The-Yom Kippur War. Even Golda makes a joke towards the conclusion about the amount of knowledge shared in only 95 minutes.
Condensing so much history in a one-act play could be exhausting, but Gibson never falls into that trap. Part of the reason the script works is because the writing takes theatregoers seriously. Golda’s dialogue does not feel dumbed down or simplified. Since he gets spectators emotionally invested early on, the running time goes by very fast.
Reynolds speaks with expressive conviction every minute she is onstage. Her depiction of Golda is a person with supreme confidence and uncompromised beliefs.
She rarely has time to catch her breath sharing one anecdote after another. Her performance honors the former chief minister in a lovingly sincere way.
In Gibson’s eyes, Golda is a great human being, but far from perfect. Implications about her flawed relationship with her husband, Morris Meyerson, keep the drama from being a sugarcoated narrative. While Golda does seem to deeply love Morris, some of her actions can be considered less than noble.
In spite of her private issues, she makes up for them in her compassion for other people. Golda’s hopes for peace will strike an emotional core with many people.
Although it’s easy to focus on Reynolds’ acting, Salovey’s staging is equally valuable. He utilizes technology and sound to further enhance the plot.
With the exception of a giant table, that is used throughout to depict a variety of locations, Victoria Petrovich’s set is a spare one. Petrovich’s choice might have been intentional so viewers instead can pay more attention to her projections.
Photos are timed well in the interpretation, especially when family members and allies from Golda’s world are used. Yet, the most memorable use of projections is a devastating list of extermination camps. Sherrice Mojgani’s lighting and Petrovich create an elegiac mood that is painfully tragic.
Michael Roth’s music and Melanie Chen’s audio are appropriately grim. Mournful melodies as well as chaotic war sounds give the rendition an urgent quality.
Sorrow and subtle joy are balanced equally. There are atrocious acts of violent Anti-Semitism, but also sequences of triumph and optimism.
It should be noted that not all the important information about the Prime Minister is featured in the biography. Her actions after the Munich massacre, an especially fascinating part of her career, could have provided timely drama. However, this observation should not be mistaken as an issue with Gibson’s script. If anything, Gibson’s writing hopefully influences viewers to learn more about Golda.
Golda’s Balcony continues to be a relevant dramatization of a leader who wanted to make a difference for others. Salovey, Gibson and Reynolds contribute to keeping her legacy alive.