William Vendetta / Chicago Tribu
The photo that inspired the play: Golda Meir visiting a Milwaukee school in 1969.
Inspired by real events and fueled by imagination, To the Promised Land features two Milwaukee girls from very different backgrounds — a troubled African American girl and a Jewish immigrant from Ukraine who will grow up to become prime minister of Israel.
The play, presented by Children’s Theater of Madison April 22-30 in the Playhouse at Overture Center, was written by Milwaukee actor and playwright Jon Daly.
The two girls occupy the same Milwaukee home, decades apart. In 1914, Goldie has dreams of political activism and tries to change the world for the better. In 1968, Ruth is struggling after the racially motivated shooting of her brother, who was part of a protest march for fair housing. Their relationship begins when Ruth is given an assignment to write a book report on Golda Meir, the prime minister of Israel, who is coming to visit her school. In the play the two girls form a friendship, bonding over their mutual frustrations and their efforts to overcome injustice.
Daly says he was inspired to write the play because his daughter Emily attended Golda Meir School, renamed in 1979 after the prime minister, who went to grade school there. Meir visited the school in 1969. “There is a famous picture of her embracing a young African American girl on that day,” says Daly. “Looking at that photo, I wondered if there was a story here — if I could bring them together in a work of fiction. The play just grew out of that.”
After the play premiered at First Stage Milwaukee in 2013, Daly sent the script to Roseann Sheridan, artistic director at CTM. Finally Sheridan found a place for it in the company’s season.
Sheridan was particularly interested in directing and producing To the Promised Land because the content had both local and historical significance. “I didn’t know that much about Milwaukee’s struggle with civil rights before reading the play,” she says, “Plus, this was a great opportunity to promote new work. That’s always a goal.”
The two main characters, Ruth and Goldie, will be played by Laetitia Hollard and Alice Wenzlow, who are both enrolled in CTM’s Actors Academy program, an advanced acting training program. Hollard is an eighth-grader from McFarland, and Wenzlow is a ninth-grader from Baraboo. Both have appeared in multiple CTM productions.
To prepare for her part as the teenage Golda Meir, Wenzlow read biographies of the renowned world leader. “She was a really strong girl,” says Wenzlow. “She’s willing to do what she needs to, to succeed.”
Like Sheridan, Hollard says the play introduced her to Milwaukee’s civil rights struggles. “We learn about Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks,” she says. “We never hear about the civil rights struggles in Wisconsin.”