Golda Meir was a woman of her time — and a woman for the ages.
In the enlightening one-woman show, "Golda's Balcony," Lavonne Byers sheds her own skin to become the renowned world leader reflecting on her lifetime. It's a stunning, immersive performance, vividly depicting her enduring humanity and laced with humor.
With every fiber of her being, Byers shows us a complex, intelligent, idealistic and passionate woman that never sat on the sidelines of life. How she rose to become Israel's fourth Prime Minister in 1969 is thoughtfully recounted.
Byers' superb vocal work and spot-on physical appearance helps with conveying Meir's personal and political struggles. Her quicksilver ability to seamlessly communicate another personality to indicate what key people in her life said and did is truly remarkable.
This absorbing drama never gets static because of Henry Schvey's fluid direction. History also unspools in photos and video, highlights projected on the back wall — a helpful device to put the events in context. Robin Weatherall's sound design and lighting design by Kimberly Klearman are effective elements.
Another impeccable set by Peter and Margery Spack mainly reflects Golda's office, but some symbolism broadens the picture. too.
The play, by William Gibson ("The Miracle Worker"), finished in 2003, is based on extensive interviews with Meier in 1976. She died from leukemia in 1978, at age 80.
It emphasizes the defining two principles of Meir's life — about being Jewish and becoming yourself.
"To me, being Jewish means and has always meant being proud to be part of a people that has maintained its distinct identity for more than 2,000 years, with all the pain and torment that has been inflicted upon it," she said.
"Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement."
Gibson's structure focuses on several key incidents, namely her country's predicament during the Arab-Israeli conflict in 1973, also known as the Yom Kippur War.
In the most harrowing sequence, Golda re-lives the tense moments when Egyptian and Syrian forces attacked Israel on the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.
She's on the phone trying to get the U.S.'s help from President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. The push for nuclear weapons was averted when a cease-fire was declared 17 days after troops swept into the Sinai Peninsula.
Her ferocious commitment to Israel is never in doubt and her decisive actions are examined in this one-act.
Born Goldie Mabovitch in Kiev, Russia, in 1898, she moved with her family to Milwaukee, Wis., where she became active as a Zionist, supporting the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
From the 1940s through 1960s, she assumed various roles for the Israeli government. She and her husband had moved to Jerusalem in 1924.
The woman remained an important political figure after retirement in 1974.
"Golda's Balcony" vibrantly brings Meir's legacy to life, not just with Byers' dynamic performance, but with smart attention to detail in all production aspects.
Note: Tovah Feldsuh, who created the role of Meir in "Golda's Balcony" on Broadway, will present her cabaret show, "Aging is Optional," at 8 p.m Friday and Saturday, Oct. 28-29, at The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave., St. Louis, as part of the Gaslight Cabaret Festival.
When: Now through Oct. 30
Who: New Jewish Theater
Where: JCCA, 2 Millstone Campus Drive, Creve Coeur, Mo.
Information: www.newjewishtheatre.org or 314-442-3283