November 26, 2009

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Golda on stage
One-woman tour about Golda Meir tours
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

If you’re going to write a one-woman play about a historical figure, the life of Golda Meir certainly provides plenty to explore. Her struggle for a Jewish homeland began when she was a teenager. She became prime minister of Israel in 1969.

William Gibson’s Golda’s Balcony ran on Broadway in 2003. The Jewish Federation of New Hampshire and Second Stage Company — an offshoot of the Manchester Community Theatre Players — have partnered to tour a professional production to three synagogues and the Federation.

Meir “just never gave up on her belief that she could make a state for the refugees and the Jewish people from all over the world. And she didn’t just want it for herself. She wanted it for who she calls her neighbors, the Palestinians. She wanted them to have their own state, too. Even at the cost of her family, and there was a cost,” said Cathy McKay, who portrays Meir for Second Stage.

Born in Kiev in 1898, Golda Mabovitch moved with her family to Milwaukee at age 8. Meir was on her own at 16 or 17, when her father said he wouldn’t have her demonstrating on the street for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. She was living with her sister in Colorado when she met her husband.

McKay said the role has been an honor. “You put a lot of pressure on yourself...to represent someone who’s such a strong, strong force,” she said.

Although she’s the only one on stage, it’s been a combined effort, McKay said. “There was a lot to learn. And I had great teachers,” McKay said.

Interestingly, for all of her accomplishments, Meir seems to loom larger in American-Jewish consciousness than Israeli, said director Alan Kaplan. Kaplan runs medical support for an annual summer trip in which about 600 16- and 17-year-olds spend a week in Europe and five in the Middle East.

This summer, Kaplan interviewed Israelis about Meir in preparation for Golda’s Balcony. To many he spoke to, Mier is “like our 18th president. Do you remember who that is? I don’t,” Kaplan said. She’s also seen in a slightly negative light, from the standpoint that this “surprise attack occurred and that her intelligence and military had not detected it,” Kaplan said. Israelis were running out of supplies and needed support in particular from the U.S., during the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

Ten years prior, Israel started to build a nuclear arsenal, recognizing it needed defense so they would not end up with another Masada — the biblical mountaintop site where Jews “elected to commit mass suicide” rather than be taken by Roman armies surrounding them.

The underground structure in Dimona was represented as a desalination plant. Israel had operational nuclear weapons by the time the Yom Kippur War broke, and after multiple attempts to get aid from Europe and the U.S., Prime Minister Meir recognized that without some kind of leverage, she would not get overt help. Western countries had interest in Arab oil, and Nixon was trying to arrange assistance through a third party, Kaplan said.

Meir used the nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip with Kissinger: she called him to say planes were loaded and were targeting enemy headquarters — Damascus and Cairo, “with the recognition that millions of people will be killed if that had to go forward,” Kaplan said.

“Of course, this is her tremendous dilemma. As she said in her words, ‘As a woman I bring life, not death,’” Kaplan said. As an idealist, she had the idea of building a beautiful land that would bring harmony, growth and peace.

The leverage worked. Meir was able to get Kissinger and Nixon to send supplies, and Israel was then able to cross the Suez, opening the road to Cairo, which led to negations that “kept the Cold War cold,” Kaplan said.

Kaplan thinks there’s no question of her overall contribution to Israel. In the original war of Israeli independence in 1947-48, the Israeli Haganah had 50,000 rifles, up against five Arab armies with tanks. Leader David Ben-Gurion knew where he could get the arms they needed, and that they needed $25 million to buy them.

“Meir was the one who came to the United States and through the force of her personality raised $50 million. And basically without her effort that country never would have been established,” Kaplan said.

Besides research and preparation to perform the 95-minute play, McKay undergoes a make-up process that can take theatrical make-up artists Kaplan and Jonathan Fisher about two hours. McKay is playing Meir at about age 75. Kaplan started teaching stage make-up about 40 years ago in Chicago, and Fisher said he’s had about 35 years of experience.


If you go
What: Golda’s Balcony, by William Gibson, presented by Second Stage and the Jewish Federation of NH
Manchester: Saturday, Nov. 28, at 7:30 p.m., at the Jewish Federation of NH, 698 Beech St.
Nashua: Sunday, Nov. 29, at 1 p.m. at Temple Beth Abraham, 4 Raymond St.
Tickets: $5-$10
Contact: 627-7679, manchestercommunitytheatre.com

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