Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, May 2002.
This is superb theatre. One fine actress, Annette Miller, one great playwright, William Gibson, one inspired director, Daniel Gidron, and an exciting, true story. The only technological help they receive is an excellent sound design by Mark Huang. Purchase one of the ninety-nine seats in the Spring Lawn Theatre and you become a part of this experience.
Shakespeare & Company is presenting the world premiere of Golda's Balcony by William Gibson once or twice a week, now through August 25, in their intimate Spring Lawn Theatre. This is a one-woman biographical show based on the life of Golda Meir, who was instrumental in the founding of the state of Israel and served as its Prime Minister from 1969-1974. Gibson, who has a home in the Berkshires and is the author of The Miracle Worker, Two For The Seesaw, and many other well-known plays, has been working on this concept since before Meir's death in 1979. He had a chance to meet her on several occasions in Israel and in America. For the past seven months he has been revising his script with Shakespeare & Company through a series of invited readings.
Gidron also approaches this material with a passionate first-hand knowledge. A Jew born in Israel, Gidron was in his native land during the Yom Kippur War of 1973, which forms the center around with Golda's Balcony revolves.
In 1973 Meir was faced with a desperate situation. The Egyptian and Syrian armies, backed by the Soviet Union, were gaining ground after their surprise attack, and the Americans were delaying delivering on their promise of Phantom fighter planes and other military equipment. The fate of Israel, a nation Meir had helped bring to birth, was at stake. Gidron and Huang use the simple sound cues of ringing phones and the ticking of a clock to bring the action back to 1973 when Meir's threat of nuclear action against her attackers threatened to turn the Cold War hot overnight. Gibson balances the tension of that time with Meir's memories of her childhood in Kiev, her coming of age in Milwaukee, her marriage to Morris Myerson, their immigration to the Middle East, the birth of their two children, Meir's struggle to choose between family and political callings, the establishment of the Israeli state, and Meir's role in its early history.
As I said in my recent review of The Sound of Music, it is a good thing this is a true story, because no one would believe it if you made it up. Golda Meir was one WOW of a woman. Intelligent, dedicated, realistic, and down-to-earth. Any actress would kill for this role, but very few could do it justice. Miller brings Meir vividly to life despite the fact that she bears little physical resemblance. She walks on stage and says, "No wig. No false nose. No swollen leg. Use your imagination." and then proceeds to transform herself before our eyes by assuming Meir's characteristic round-shouldered stance. This is the theatre and there is no need to believe that Miller IS Golda Meir, merely that she is bringing Meir's thoughts and experiences alive for us.
The day I attended the show Miller played to a packed house and a standing ovation. No one doubted that they were witnessing a great piece of theatre as real history was transformed into stage history. I would imagine that this play will have a long life after its run at Shakespeare & Company, and I dearly wish that Miller will get to be a part of that. As I said, any actress would kill for this role, many will, and there is strong temptation to hire a famous name for a big city production. Much as we might like to keep Miller all to ourselves here in the Berkshires (she has been performing with Shakespeare & Company for the past six years) I would love to see this be the role that allows us to share her with the world.
One of the heartbreaking truths of Meir's story is that, while she succeeded in founding the Israeli state and bringing it relatively peacefully through many of its early trials, war still rages there. The hard decisions Meir had to make about sending young men to die, selecting between love of family and love of country, and when and how to employ the terrible forces of war are still facing Israelis, Palestinians, and others around the world every day. Gibson wisely makes the last word of his play "Shalom." Would that it were so.
The Shakespeare and Company production of the Golda's Balcony will be performed through August 25 at the Spring Lawn Theatre on Kemble Street (Rt. 7A) in Lenox. The show runs 95 minutes with no intermission. If you want to bring your school-age children, do a little homework on Golda Meir and the history of the state of Israel with them ahead of time. For tickets and information call the box office at 413-637-3353.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2002