'Golda's Balcony' a powerful and compelling show
The sound of machine gunfire is heard in the distance and Golda Meir (played by New Milford actress Sonnie Osborne) walks up to a dimly lit table and slowly lights a cigarette with trembling hands.
It's the first scene of "Golda's Balcony," on the stage at TheatreWorks New Milford through June 30. What follows is a 90-minute acting tour de force by Osborne, whose nuanced, powerful and ultimately masterful performance accomplishes what many, (including, I'm embarrassed to admit, this reviewer) thought was impossible – delivery of a one-person show that isn't . . . well . . . boring.
In fact "Golda's Balcony" is the opposite of boring. It's intense, thought-provoking, heartwrenching, and, at some moments, even funny. Osborne manages to strike exactly the right balance between biography and drama – providing insight into the history of Israel's first female prime minister, but also bringing her humanity to life, poignantly portraying her hopes, dreams, fears, regrets, and passions.
Osborne is a TheatreWorks veteran who has performed in numerous shows at the New Milford theater including "Rabbit Hole," "Madea," and "Fuddy Meers." Offstage Osborne also records books-on-tape for the Connecticut Library for the Blind.
Written by playwright William Gibson, the original Broadway production of "Golda's Balcony" opened in 2003 and starred Tovah Fellshuh. It went on to become the longest running one-woman show in Broadway history, running for 493 performances.
The play takes place in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War. As Israel battles desperately for her future, Meir flashes back, sharing moments from her life and describing her journey from Russian immigrant to American schoolteacher, to a leader of international politics as the fourth prime minister of Israel. During the play she describes her role as a socialist Zionist, her emigration to Palestine in 1921, the birth of her two children, and the breakup of her marriage.
The play's title, "Golda's Balcony," has two meanings. It refers to the balcony on her Tel Aviv apartment from which she could see the Mediterranean and the ships arriving every day with Jewish refugees. It also refers to a second balcony later in her life, which was an observation post at a top secret nuclear research facility in Dimona – which she frequently visited and which workers at the plant nicknamed "Golda's Balcony."
This TheatreWorks production is tautly directed by Jane Farnol of Gaylordsville, who helps Osborne seamlessly move from crisis to comedic tender family moments back to crisis without missing a beat. The show's crew also includes assistant director Laura Gilbert, set designer Richard Pettibone, lighting design by Pettibone and Scott Wyshynski, sound design by Tom Libonate, and costume design by Renee Purdy.
Each of these elements heightens the power of the production, the set is sparse – a table surrounded by stone walls and desert sands. On the back wall scenes that illustrate moments from Meir's life are projected – we see views of concentration camps and a haunting peek at the nuclear facility at Dimona.
It's hard to fit a life into 90 minutes, but by the time "Golda's Balcony" concludes, Osborne has completed a powerful portrait of a powerful woman. She's presented Meir and highlighted her place and history, but also offered insight and glimpses into the personal story of the woman behind the headlines.
In the end "Golda's Balcony" provides everything you go to the theater for; it moves, educates, inspires and ultimately leaves you thinking.