Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Lavonne Byers Shines in 'Golda's Balcony'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Lavonne Byers Shines in 'Golda's Balcony'

Article excerpt

"Survival is maybe a synonym for Jewish," a woman says, savoring a view of the Mediterranean from the balcony of her apartment. "That's my story."

The woman is Golda Meir, portrayed by Lavonne Byers in a performance of nuance, depth and force. She plays the title character and is the entire cast in "Golda's Balcony," which opens the New Jewish Theatre's 20th season.

Obviously Byers one of St. Louis' most effective actors is a beautiful woman, which is more than even Meir's most devoted admirers ever claimed about the Israeli prime minister. It doesn't matter. With a hideous wig, a drab suit, stooped posture and deeply shadowed eyes, she thoroughly captures Meir's physical presence.

But if Byers performed without any theatrical effects, it would still be impressive work, because she goes way past Meir's appearance. She lets us see her character layer on changes through time.

Playwright William Gibson ("The Miracle Worker," "Two for the Seesaw") starts near the end, with Meir looking back on her life a life defined by the movement for a Jewish home in the State of Israel.

As she grows from an idealistic Milwaukee schoolgirl to a loving (but frustrated) wife and mother in Jerusalem to a capable political leader rescuing Jewish war orphans from DP camps, Byers' Meir emerges as a kind of real-life painting: The girl in watercolors, the Jerusalem years in crayon, the political leader as a work in oil. By the time she layers on the role of prime minister, Byers' creation is as thick as a Van Gogh, full of shadows and colorful swirls. Whatever we see, there's always more to notice.

And director Henry Schvey displays her to us like a painting on an easel, under excellent light (thanks to designer Kimberly Klearman). Even when she speaks with unseen others (Israeli generals, King Abdullah of Jordan, her dreamy, unhappy husband), Schvey makes sure to present Byers from different physical perspectives that resonate with her emotions.

Here, she girlishly cradles her cheek with her hand; there, she hollers at her father because he forbids her to make a speech. …

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