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THEATER REVIEW

Treading lightly in Golda's shoes

Renee Taylor mixes history, drama and humor as the Israeli leader.

May 08, 2003|Don Shirley | Times Staff Writer

A Renee Taylor solo called "An Evening With Golda Meir," billed as "the inspiring life of Golda Meir," sounds, in advance, like something out of "SCTV." Taylor is best known for her own semiautobiographical comedies and a role in "The Nanny."

But Taylor's performance as the former Israeli prime minister is better than expected. Although her script fails to transcend the built-in problems of its genre, the natural drama of Meir's biography and a sprinkling of Borscht Belt-style jokes make the production palatable.

Geared to American theatergoers, the monologue's premise is that Meir is addressing an American audience in 1978, commemorating Israel's 30th birthday. U.S. and Israeli flags flank the stage at the Canon Theatre.

Taylor emerges in a black suit, orthopedic shoes and a severe haircut with a dark headpiece. Yet a colorful shawl and brooch somewhat soften the look. Taylor's features aren't nearly as craggy as Meir's, but the resemblance is close enough.

Meir was 80 in 1978. Taylor tones down her own ebullience and speaks in calm, deliberative cadences, raising her voice only during a few emotional moments.

Celeste Thompson's lighting changes, occasional slides projected on the backdrop and sound effects designed by Peter Stenshoel -- all under the direction of Taylor's husband, Joseph Bologna -- add variety. During discussion of Meir's early years, Taylor does an occasional dance step, and a few other characters speak briefly on tape -- elements that would not have been part of a real Meir lecture but that qualify under the terms of Taylor's dramatic license.

After a few initial pleasantries, Taylor heads into Meir's years as prime minister and her most difficult crisis -- the Yom Kippur War of 1973. This section, like many in the genre of solo docudramas, calls out for program footnotes documenting the sources.

Regardless of what Meir did during that period, it's unlikely that -- five years later -- she would have casually volunteered to an American audience that she had threatened to use nuclear weapons as part of her plea for faster American military assistance. Yet that's what Taylor has Meir saying in this script.

The script oversimplifies the days immediately prior to the war, in which Meir made her most frequently criticized decisions. Taylor then turns to Meir's early years in Russia and America and gradually works her way chronologically to the birth of Israel. The two decades after 1948 get hardly any attention.

A chronic problems of this genre is the inability to boil down a momentous lifetime into one monologue, but Taylor's choices are relatively defensible. Indeed, the 90-minute performance, with no intermission, begins to drag slightly as the ending approaches.

*

'An Evening With Golda Meir'

Where: Canon Theatre, 205 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills

When: Tuesdays-Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, 8 p.m.; Wednesdays and Sundays, 2 p.m.

Ends: May 25

Price: $35-$45

Info: (310) 859-2830

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

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