for Golda: Annette Miller as Golda Meir.
William Gibson, Directed by Daniel Gidron
Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, Mass.,
through Aug. 25
Seldom does a critic have the fortune to see a production
of a new play that causes the audience to laugh frequently,
nod its collective head in agreement often, and cry openly
at one monumental moment; thus it should be a rare review
that raves about a play. William Gibson’s new play, Golda’s
Balcony, is astounding theater, one that deserves its
standing ovation and critical applause. This one-woman show
runs 95 minutes, but it achieves wonders in those 95 minutes.
It should not be missed by anyone who is interested in history,
who struggles to understand the Middle East imbroglios, who
enjoys laughing and learning, or who simply wonders where
meaningful, challenging, and intelligent theater has disappeared
to. It reappears fully in Golda’s Balcony.
Performed in the Spring Lawn Theatre, a 99-seat salon that
looks so like the former Salon Theatre at Shakespeare &
Co.’s former haunts that I wondered where the latter’s uncomfortable
seats and scaffolding were, Golda’s Balcony features
the fascinating storytelling of former Israeli Prime Minister
Golda Meir (Annette Miller, in a sort of one-woman ensemble-acting
tour de force). The title refers to the observation room overlooking
the creation of Israel’s nuclear weapons; in nonlinear fashion,
Meir tells the audience how she came to frequent the room
so often that it was jokingly called “Golda’s Balcony.” It’s
one of the grimmer laughs in a play surprisingly full of humor.
Balcony fascinates with its careful attention to Meir’s
personal connection to Israel’s history and survival. Seemingly
with just her spine and her breath, Miller creates Meir. As
Miller materializes in the salon, she tells us, “No wigs,
no swollen leg, no false nose. Use your imagination,” and
then she hangs her purse on the crook of her left elbow, shumbles
to the salon windows overlooking the veranda, and Golda Meir
tells us whatever stories she pleases.
All of them please.
Miller’s Meir is, as she tells us, “Mamala Golda, who makes
chicken soup for her soldiers . . . but at the bottom of the
pot . . . is blood, at the bottom of the pot is the question.”
Miller melts into Meir so completely that even as she relates
both sides of her many conversations with her mother, father,
husband Morris, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Henry Kissinger,
or any of the other dozen people sharing her balcony, Meir
towers. Even if it were possible to separate the conflict
and humor that playwright Gibson weaves so masterfully into
the play, Golda’s Balcony would make the must-see list
simply for Miller’s acting.
Miller’s portrayal of Meir’s handling of the 1973 Yom Kippur
War works as the spine of the piece. Meir’s humor makes the
horror that faced Israel and the world chilling. That Meir—so
human a person, so full of stories, so bursting with empathy—came
so close to using nuclear bombs is stunning. Golda’s Balcony
is just the play that needs to be seen now, just as Meir is
the sort of politician we need now. Seldom does any theater
company anywhere produce a play as good and as important as
Golda’s Balcony, and seldom do area theatergoers have
the opportunity to see something this good. Don’t waste it.