by Jeannie Marlin Woods
What a rare and marvelous experience is in the offing at Shakespeare and Company for the next couple of weeks. Actress Annette Miller is reviving her impressive portrayal of Golda Meir in a solo performance of GOLDA’S BALCONY. It is a performance that is flawless – one that engages the mind and the heart and that asks some big questions about one’s choices in life.
The playwright, William Gibson, is the Tony-Award winning author of THE MIRACLE WORKER and other notable works. GOLDA’S BALCONY was premiered in its original form by Shakespeare & Co in 2002. Daniel Gidron directed that première production and Miller played Meir. Gibson later revised the work to make it a solo piece that was produced in New York with actresses such as Anne Bancroft and Tovah Feldshuh. GOLDA’S BALCONY then set a record as the longest-running one-woman play in Broadway history on January 2, 2005.
Now, twenty years after the Berkshire première, Gibson’s play, actress Miller, and director Gidron are back to present the solo performance piece in a short run at the intimate, indoor Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre on the Shakespeare & Co campus in Lenox, MA. Over twenty years, the play has developed admirably. What was once a two-hour, multi-character piece has evolved into a beautifully-crafted tour de force for a high caliber performer. The award-winning Annette Miller now brings another twenty years of her craft to create a fascinating character that can be fierce, funny, and – above all – profoundly human in her portrayal of this icon.
Theatre is, at heart, great storytelling and this is storytelling at its very best. As Golda sits on her balcony, she shares her incredible life – from Russian immigrant to American schoolteacher, to wife and mother, to become the Prime Minister of Israel, a state she had no small part in bringing into being. She tracks multiple aspects of her personal journey, but most central and crucial is her total commitment to creating the state of Israel because she believed that state represented the “redemption of the human race.” Meir was Israel’s first and only female head of government, the first and only female head of government in the Middle East, and only the fourth elected female head of government in the modern world. The play focuses on her life and the leadership of Israel during the crisis of the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Actress Miller is totally in control of the script and her performance is seamless. She makes no special effort to look like Meir – “use your imagination” she tells us at the outset. And yet she effectively embodies that towering figure so that there is no need to compare the performer and the performed. She draws us into her world and it is as fascinating as fire. At the core of the play are questions she must answer for herself and for her country: “What happens when idealism becomes power? What happens when we lose our moral center?” Miller, apparently close to Meir’s actual age in the play, tell her stories in clearly articulated speech laden with human warmth that never wanes even when she relates the terrible personal sacrifices that she made to create her dream of a country for the Jewish people.
Director Gidron stages the play simply and with an eye for detail. Even in her 70s, Gold Meir is dynamic and filled with passion and commitment. Sitting on her balcony in Israel, at her desk, or presenting a speech at a lectern, or standing by the large map of Israel, the action is quick and engaging and demands attention. The result is that we feel we are in an authentic historical moment.
Costumes by Govane Lohbauer, setting and props coordinated by Patrick Brennan, and lighting by Erika Johnson all help to transport us into Golda’s world. And Bekah Rudinec’s spot-on sound design provides tremendous support to the emotional peaks – from period music on an old gramophone to the horrifying cacophony of war.
According to the Shakespeare and Company website, this production is sold out for the run and the opening night house was certainly filled to the brim. But if you can finagle a seat, GOLDA’S BALCONY is a wonderful theatrical experience. Last night’s unforgettable performance was met with an audience so involved that at times they echoed a line or answered a question in the text. And there was no delay in seeing them spring to their feet for a enthusiastic standing ovation. Great theatre at its best, right here in the Berkshires! How fortunate we are.
Playwright: William Gibson Director: Daniel Gidron Set Coordinator & Props Master: Patrick Brennan Lighting Design: Erika Johnson Costume Design: Govane Lohbauer Sound Design: Bekah Rudinec Cast: Golda Meir – Annette Miller
Information GOLDA’S BALCONY is playing at Shakespeare & Company’s Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre from August 5-20, 2023. To purchase tickets, visit Shakespeare.org or call the Box Office at (413) 637-3353.
Running time: 100 minutes with no intermission The Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre at Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, Massachusetts