May 18, 2002 performance reviewed by Frances Benn Hall
see also: Our interview with William Gibson.
The opening performance of William Gibson’s Golda’s Balcony at Shakespeare & Co.’s Spring Lawn Theatre showed that theatre can be miracle. Taut and deft as Gibson’s The Miracle Worker of 45 years ago, Golda’s Balcony is a masterpiece, in monologue form; 95 supercharged minutes brilliantly acted by Annette Miller and directed with sensitivity by Daniel Gidron. This play seems destined to move on to Broadway and then into the text books.
The time is a hot, still, sultry night in 1973 and the Yom Kippur War is raging. Israel has been attacked on two fronts by Syrian and Egyptian armies, which are gaining ground. Meanwhile, there is an agonizing delay by the U.S. in replacing the planes and military equipment lost in the first days of fighting. Drastic measures are needed. The fate of Israel hangs in the balance. Golda waits, sleepless.
Along with her agonies, memories are woven into her waiting, as the play skillfully threads past and present. Her childhood in Kiev, the fleeing of a pogrom, adolescence in Milwaukee, and the near-sinking of the boat that brought the young Golda and her husband to Palestine all will be remembered vividly. The memories don’t come in chronological order and often they are shattered by pulls back to the crisis of the moment.
Golda’s world zig-zags across her balcony: Russia, Wisconsin, Palestine, kibbutz, public life, speeches, money-raising, trips to America, the balancing of husband, children, and family with the needs of other children and other families; and the wars, always the wars, and now what could become a final war.
Annette Miller evokes these demanding conflicts, and without impersonating Golda Meir, takes on her very spirit. She makes no attempt to resemble her physically; rather, upon entering the audience-lit room, simply tells us, “No false nose, no swollen legs.” She then sits, puts on Golda’s clunking shoes, and rising to cross to her desk, becomes Golda.
Miller plays out the agony of that night with dark, funny, poignant, and horrifying memories of other times and places in a small playing space with a desk, two chairs, a lectern, and a few maps.
We weep with her as a child on Cyprus hands her a paper flower because in his poverty he has not even a real one. We cheer with her when a heartfelt public address helps her to raise the money that will save the children of Cyprus.
We were amazed at the ease with which Miller shifts mood and tempo. We can weep with her, rage with her, and shout with her into the phone, “I don’t care if it is 3 AM, wake him!” when Henry Kissinger’s aide hesitates to put her call through.
We inquire along with her as she asks, “What is the price of survival? What happens when idealism becomes power?”
For power is possible, and ultimately avoided. There is a “second balcony” on which Golda has stood. She lets us look down with her on what lies beneath it. The ending of the play, wherein the tempo rises to a finish that brings the audience to a prolonged standing ovation, rests on that second balcony, and what it could, but must not, offer.
Daniel Gidron, who was born and raised in Israel, and received theatre training at Brandeis University, brings his experience and intuitive skills to the play’s direction. His handling of the complex script is sensitive to its nuances, tempo, and rhythms.
This summer we in the Berkshires will have an opportunity to share this experience. As for the play, it is likely it will go on and on and very probably end up on other stages with other actors. But none are apt to be finer than the version now playing in Lenox. You even may want to go twice!