Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Tovah Feldshuh gives Bravura Performance in William Gibson's Golda's Balcony
Tovah Feldshuh gives a brilliant solo performance in William Gibson's Golda's Balcony, now playing at the Geary Theatre. She portrays the feisty Golda Meir, Israel's plain-spoken and fervent prime minister from 1969 through 1974. Feldshuh holds the audience spellbound for the full 90-minute, no-intermission performance.
Opening with the nerve-racking sound of bullets being fired, Golda begins the amazing story of her personal and political life. She is at a Cabinet meeting during the dark days of the 1973 Yon Kippur War and she occasionally must stop due to the explosive gunfire coming from screaming fighter jets, magnified by the theatre's sound system. The actress is in a wood and stone set that looks like a bunker underground, and occasionally photographs are projected on the walls of various personalities involved in her anecdotes. In one scene, a representation of her late husband is projected on the back of a chair, creating a creepy sense of him sitting across the table from her.
Golda tells of growing up in Milwaukee, living on a kibbutz, her years as a perturbed housewife in Jerusalem and her emergence as a political activist. She tells of raising over 50 million dollars for the Jewish Relief Fund in the United States. She encapsulates the dramatic story of the birth of Israel in the wake of the Holocaust and its subsequent, seemingly endless struggle for peace. Tovah Feldshuh's force is something to behold as she goes through every emotion of a human being. She plays the role with a vigor and passion that demands your complete attention throughout the whole performance.
The spitting image of the prime minister through extensive makeup and body padding, the actress speaks with a perfect Midwestern accent. She changes voices and manner in an instant as she imitates Golda's cajoling mother, her bookish husband and the Jewish refugees on the island of Cyprus waiting to enter the promised land. Her imitation of King Abdullah of Jordan, Henry Kissinger, David Ben-Gurion, Pope Paul VI and other luminaries is spot on both in speech and manner.
Tovah Feldshuh's performance is intense and riveting; however, there are comic spots in the bracing performance. She wonders if Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, a notorious womanizer, takes off his eye patch when he goes to bed with his lovers, and she tells the audience that the best place for bargains for a new dress is Klein's in New York. The phone calls between her representative in Washington during the Yom Kippur War trying to get the forty-seven phantom fighter jets promised by President Nixon is attention grabbing. She shows the agony of her soul when she "blackmails" Kissinger by using the country's nuclear arsenal to win the war.
Director Scott Schwartz has used every bell and whistle to make this an exciting night of theatre. The very wide "Cinerama" projection of fighter jets flying, and the ground from their point of view, is awesome. Schwartz has done a superlative job in directing this exciting night of theatre. Playwright William Gibson gives the audience a great understanding of Golda's personal and public life. What an amazing difference from Feldshuh's one woman show as Tallulah Bankhead several years ago.
Golda's Balcony runs through August 13 at the Geary Theatre, 415 Geary St, San Francisco. For tickets please call 415-749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org.