As the inaugural production of the newly restored and renamed LaSalle Bank Theatre (what many of us will always think of as the Shubert Theater), “Golda’s Balcony” is an odd choice in that there is no intermission to test the new amenities and the additional washrooms we keep hearing about. And though the new burgundy seats are less plush than their cushy gold predecessors, the seats themselves are wider and have more legroom around them and the century-old theater itself is brighter and more inviting than it has been in decades. Whatever one’s politics, Valerie Harper’s one-woman pseudo-autobiographical portrayal of late Israeli prime minister Golda Meir is high drama, to be sure. Bombs come out of nowhere while she is reminiscing, smoking away nervously in her headquarters during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Unlike Ingrid Bergman, who played Meir a decade after these events when everyone remembered Meir’s speaking voice and mannerisms and which therefore had to be scrupulously emulated, Harper has chosen to minimize such affectations in part to maximize the clarity of the narrative, particularly when Meir is recalling her past by imitating others with distinctive accents such as Moshe Dayan, Menachem Begin, Henry Kissinger, King Abdullah of Jordan and even Pope Paul VI. Kudos to Harper that she is such a gifted actress and storyteller that she really brings these other “characters” to life in an engaging way.
Despite the one-sidedness and virtual propaganda of much of “Balcony” (“There will be peace when the Arabs love their children more than they hate the Jews”), there are insightful moments when it lets down its guard long enough to reveal the myriads of commonalities that exist between Israelis and Palestinians other than both claiming divine entitlement to the same land. (Dennis Polkow).
LaSalle Bank Theatre, 18 W. Monroe, (312)902-1400. $32-$65. Through June 11.