Golda’s Balcony: Jeremy Kagan’s Version of William Gibson’s Play

Golda Meir, the beloved prime minister of Israel from 1969 to 1974, continues to intrigue the imagination of playwrights and filmmakers, in and outside of Israel.

Since her death, we have seen TV movies, such as “A Woman Named Golda,” with a shining Ingrid Bergman in her very last role,

Broadway plays, such as Golda’s Balcony, by William Gibson, and Golda was also featured as a supporting character in Spielberg’s 2005 Oscar-nominated “Munich,” about the 1972 athletes massacre.

Jeremy Kagan’s screen version, “Golda’s Balcony” is based on Gibsons Broadway play. I am usually not a fan of one-man or one-woman shows, because it takes a particularly charismatic thesp to sustain attention for 90 minutes or so. But Kagans movie may be the exception due to the riveting performance by Valerie Harper as Israels former Prime Minister Golda Meir.

“Golda’s Balcony” is a powerful, occasionally touching and humorous portrait of the life and times of Golda Meir. In retirement, secretly near death due to cancer, Golda reminisces about her life, which parallels the history of the Zionist movement and the State of Israel.

“Golda’s Balcony” is not a great film–it’s not really a movie–but the long monologues, interrupted by dialogue with various political personages (all played by Harper), capture the essence of the leader, who devoted all her life and career to promoting the Zionist causeat a price.

Harper recreates the performance that Tovah Feldshuh, also a good actress (Remember “Yentl,” the stage play) in 2003, first in Off-Broadways Manhattan Ensemble Theater, and then on Broadway. At 66, Harper is a decade older than Golda was during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which is the film’s central event. But it doesn’t matter: with proper hairstyle, makeup, and Golda’s characteristically ordinary clothes as props, Harper renders a portrait of larger-than-life persona. The film is produced by Tony Cacciotti, Harpers husband, which may explain the actress’ admirable compassion and commitment to the role.

“Golda’s Balcony” is at once less and more than a Hollywood biopicture, since it aims to illuminate through the central profile Palestine’s and then Israel’s turbulent history, the endless wars and conflicts but also the utopian notion of building a new state in the desert. Dressed in bathrobes, simple street clothes (often black) and largely sitting at her office, waiting for the telephone to ring with good news about American supplies of armaments during the near-fatal Yom Kippur War (in October 1973), Golda reminisces about her childhood in Russia, adolescence and youth in Wisconsin, and Zionist settlement in an Israeli kibbutz in 1921, 27 years before the State of Israel was officially declared by the then premier (and Golda’s friend and boss), the stern David Ben-Gurion.

Through flashbacks, violating strict chronological order, and the use of archival footage, photographs, newsreels, color illustrations, and light, director Jeremy Kagan offers glimpses on the evolution of Israel as a strong, secular state, the only real democracy in the Middle East.

What unifies the disparate episodes and memories is the thematic focus on the Yom Kippur War, which Israel came close to losing, a nearly disastrous defeat, due to failures of both the otherwise excellent Israeli and U.S. intelligence.
Golda was informed about the impending Egyptian attack just hours before the war broke out.

We learn that Moshe Dayan, Golda’s tough defense minister Moshe Dayan had been against launching a pre-emptive strike for fear of bringing on the worlds condemnation. Though discussing serious political and military issues, the film is not devoid of humor. In the midst of analysis of Israel’s various strategies, Golda refers to Dayan’s legendary womanizing reputation as a Casanova with a snide remark, I wonder if he ever takes off the eye patch

Among the highlights is Golda’s recreation of being clad in black Arabic dress, going to Jordan to talk its Kings out of War just prior to th1948 War of Independence. With self-deprecating humor, Golda describes her attire as “black schemata” (literally meaning rags).

Upset by Soviet leader Brezhnev’s arming the enemy with missiles, Golda frequently contacts the U.S. ambassador, at all times of the day and night, to plead with then U.S. President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to send the promised phantom fighters. There’s an interesting reconstruction of talks with Kissinger, who, as known, was a German-Jew.

What you need to know Born Golda Mabovitch and later Golda Myerson after her marriage, she tells us that her father had to nail boards to his door in her birthplace, Kiev, Russia, to protect the family from pogroms. Upon moving to Wisconsin’s Milwaukee, she is asked to work in her father’s clothing store rather than study at high school. Moving to her sisters in Denver, she meets Morris Myerson, a gentle man who wished to have a traditional wife and family. Golda then tells him, I dont want to be your wife and I dont want not to be your wife, which sums up her lifelong conflicts between domestic, marital, and parental duties on the one hand and an all-demanding political career on the other.

Ironically, at an Israeli kibbutz in the 1920s, Golda was first assigned to the kitchen”I was making matzoth balls.” Later, embarking on a brilliant mission, a lecture tour to address American Jewish leaders, she raises single-handedly the huge amount of $50 million, most of which goes for purchasing the much needed weaponry. As Foreign Minister, she attends a crucial U.N. session that results in a vote of 33-13 to grant an independent state to the Jewish people.

There are also some shocking, controversial revelations about Israel. Golda informs of the diligent, secretive work that went for years in Dimona to build nuclear weapons, and uses it to blackmail Nixon and Kissinger in 1973. For the record, Israel has denied charges that nuclear war was in the planning, or that they ever exist

Golda’s motto throughout her life is: Grant us the right to exist and no question cannot be answered. Interestingly, not many references are made to her gender, or the novelty of being one of the world’s first and few female premiers, long before Thatcher in U.K. and at the same time as Gandhi in India). With her outwardly grandmotherly appearance and friendly, down-to-earth approach, she nonetheless led Israel with firm hand throughout some great events and crises.

Vet playwright William Gibson, previously
wrote the classic plays “Two for the Seesaw” and “The Miracle Worker,” which were made into popular Hollywood movies. The film is directed by Jeremy Kagan, who also helmed
“Heroes,” “The Bix Fix,” and the Jewish-themed indie, “The Chosen.”


Directed by Jeremy Kagan
Written by William Gibson, from his Broadway play of the same title.
Cast: Valerie Harper