What happens when idealism becomes power? It kills. And to save your world how many other worlds are you entitled to destroy? The shocking tension filled story of William Gibson’s Golda’s Balcony poses such questions as The Vagabond Players opens their 97th season. Taking place inside the office of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir on the eve of the Yom Kippur War in October of 1973, this gripping emotional drama unearths the story of Israel’s first female Prime Minister and her involvement in the Cold War. Directed by Miriam Bazensky, this one-woman show is a sensational production for people of all cultural backgrounds and religions; a powerful thought-provoking performance given by Amy Jo Shapiro that will move you to tears.
This striking solo show is enhanced drastically by the talented artistic production team, honing their crafts in sound and set design to create moments of sheer brilliance echoing behind Shapiro’s stellar performance. Set Designer Tony Colavito conceptualizes the paradox of complex simplicity in creating the Prime Minister’s office. Nothing more than a desk, the phone, and a chair, but the walls are painted to look like roughly hewn three-dimensional stones. This darkens the stage slightly creating the illusion that the office is in a sense not an office but a prison. This serves to echo the metaphor of the storyline as the PM often appears imprisoned by her career and the decisions she makes in regards to her job as well as her personal life.
Sound Designer Stephy Miller brings the internal stirrings of Meir’s mind to life by recreating the music she hears. The opening to the performance shows the office in darkness with the subtle muted echoes of Bach’s cello concertos. Colavito pieces only the most somber moments of this master classical work together and plays them at key points throughout the show highlighting some of the more emotional moments in her stories with this underscore of hauntingly melodic strings.
Bazensky and Shapiro create a living portrait of Golda Meir with a great deal of depth to the character. They work together to pluck at this historical political icon and allow her to naturally evolve into a human being with flaws, emotions, and characteristics that go beyond the figurehead Meir was known as. It is an incredible process to witness; the unraveling of her inner most secrets with raw compassion and desperation as well as moments of light and joy all encompassed in one performance.
Shapiro brings a level of justice to her portrayal of Meir that is second to none. She delves into the complexities of the character, becoming the woman and truly identifying with all of her emotions in ways that allows the audience to relate and feel moved by her story. She utters a line — “survival is maybe a synonym for Jewish” and that becomes her story; a stirring journey fraught with the trials and tribulations of not only surviving in an oppressed and persecuted religion but being a female and rising to power to protect not only her cultural heritage and home but that of millions that came before her and will come after her.
Every word she speaks resonates with the struggle of her survival; each story glittering in her eyes with the strong memories of the past as if her eyes were a projector that is reflecting the events directly from her mind to the audience. Watching Shapiro maintain her composure even in the most harrowing moments of her character’s breakdown is breathtaking. The audience sees Golda Meir fraying at the edges and slowly unraveling in the face of world annihilation; every breath drawn dragging you deeper into her heart-wrenching saga.
By far the most impressive feat conquered in this production by Shapiro is her creation of the other characters in the story. Full conversations occur between Meir and significant people: her husband Morris, an Arab King, her parents; and Shapiro gives them each their own unique voice literally bringing them to life on the stage without ever needing the presence of another actor. The dialogue that occurs between these other characters and her own character is executed flawlessly to the point that the audience sees and hears an actual conversation between two people; the illusion of others a craft perfected by her phenomenal stage presence.
Shapiro expresses the strong emotions of this show with conviction and gusto, letting each moving story that she tells settle subtly with the audience as it settles within her.
Golda’s Balcony is a soul-cleansing journey that invites the audience along to her personal struggles and triumphs; a politically and emotionally charged epic that is not to be missed this fall season.
Running Time: Approximately two hours with one intermission.
Golda’s Balcony plays through September 30, 2012 at Vagabond Players – 806 S. Broadway in the heart of Fells Point – in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 563-9135, or purchase them online.