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Photograph by David Allen
IN CHARGE: Camille Saviola commands the stage as Golda Meir.

Meir Way

TheatreWorks explores the life of Gold Meir in a one-woman play

By Marianne Messina

GOLDA'S BALCONY' is a scattered, fuzzy one-actor biopic of former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (Camille Saviola), set during the Yom Kippur war, 1973 (and opening on the war's anniversary at TheatreWorks). We see Meir in her office waiting by the phone, bathrobe over her work dress, a drab-colored affair accented by old-lady shoes. She has relayed to Henry Kissinger that she's about to use the "nuclear option" in this war unless he commits more U.S. military aid, and she is awaiting word from America.

Like other shows of its kind, Golda's Balcony weaves reminiscence (in this case Golda's failed marriage) into events on the ground, which we learn from one-sided phone calls with anxious generals and politicians. Somehow this show takes a historical moment of war and political drama on the brink of annihilation and drains it of all excitement. For a woman known as a tough negotiator, an ardent ideologue, a strong woman and leader and a formidable opponent, Meir suffers some severe disempowerment in the hands of playwright William Gibson (thankfully not the cyberfiction William Gibson but The Miracle Worker Gibson). Saviola's role offers very little in the way of impersonating other characters, thus quashing dramatic questions like how did this woman command a room, play her politicians, maneuver among great minds under fire? Coming at you like an ellipitical montage—bits of the woman, dollops of Jewish history—the structure affords its richest glimpse of real flesh-and-blood dynamics in Meir's references to Moshe Dayan: "I do keep Dayan off TV."

Playing Meir, Saviola does a commendable job handling the volumes of speech, the memories, the history, the insightful, often ironic commentary, and she excels at portraying Meir's dry wit, pointing out ironies like "Only here [Israel] we can be wiped out." She shows flashes of charm and encourages the humor, slamming down the office phone to punctuate Meir's orders —"Tell Kissinger ..." Saviola has Meir down, the waddle, the girth, the generalissima stance, hands behind her back, waist thrust out.

But variation is not the strong suit of this production (bring No-doze and be sure to cram up on your Middle East history). For 80 or 90 uninterrupted minutes, its visual tone, under dull lighting, is asphalt gray, starting with the gray furniture on a cement balcony overlooking stony rubble and including the murky, black-and-white projections on the back scrim. Then sound designer Cliff Caruthers comes to the rescue: Meir stops sound at the softest complaint—"I can do without that music"—and the silenced cello embodies an artful intersection of her power and her regrets. Nicely, director Aaron Davidman let Caruthers loose in the audio toy box to provide the show's most impressive color in the form of a cracking bomb that had people jumping in their seats (Isn't that the Haydn approach, dullness interrupted with a bang?).

The greatness of Golda Meir may be underserved by this vehicle, but that explosion places the Jewish existential imperative right under your seat. As it cuts through the grayness, for an instant you're in some threatened Middle Eastern homeland or wondering what it's like when bombs going off nearby are a way of life.

GOLDA'S BALCONY, a TheatreWorks production, plays Tuesday–Wednesday at 7:30pm, Thursday–Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2 and 8pm and Sunday at 2 and 7pm through Oct. 28 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View. Tickets are $20–$56. (650.903.6000)

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