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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Now, the Berkshires' own distinguished theatrical elder statesman, eighty-eight-year-old William Gibson, best known for Two For the Seesaw and The Miracle Worker, has re-visited the play he wrote for the Theater Guild based on Golda Meir's autobiography. Unlike the 1977 Broadway Golda, which surrounded the central character (played by Anne Bancroft) with a large cast, Golda's Balcony is structured as a monologue. The balcony of the title overlooks the nuclear arsenal that was considered as a last resort doomsday scenario for Israel's national defense in 1973, "a view into Hell. . . a new Masada" -- a view which had Golda pondering questions that we still struggle with today: "What is the price of survival? What happens when idealism becomes power? "
Mr. Gibson didn't have to go far from his home in Stockbridge to find the ideal organization, Shakespeare & Company, to stage the premiere production of his restructured and re-focused play. Director Daniel Gidron is an Israeli with deep and personal feeling for the material (he lived in Israel during the Yom Kippur War). Annette Miller, one of the Company's strongest actors, is ideally cast in the title role. The Springlawn Mansion, its walls covered with maps, is scaled just right to establish an intimate connection between actor and audience.
There's even a real balcony for Miller's Golda to look out on. But while the view from Springlawn is green and tranquil, Golda's Balcony is painfully timely and disturbing. Almost too much so.
The play's present is on one of the darkest of many dark periods in Israel's history, a climactic turn in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The Egyptian and Syrian armies having gained an edge with a surprise attack across the Nile and the country's hopes for survival depend on help from the United States. Thus Meir segues between desperate phone calls to Henry Kissinger and Israel's US Ambassador, Simcha Dimitz, and her Chief of Staff General David Elazar -- all the while also reliving her personal history. She takes us from her earliest years under the Russian progroms, to her youth in Minneapolis and the simultaneous love affair with Zionism and Morris who wanted to marry her, and did, even as he declared "loving you is like loving the Rock of Gibaltrar."
The bits and pieces of the private Golda give breadth and scope to the nerve-wracking central situation. The story of a woman determined to do more than make terrific matzoh balls integrates her life with that of the country that fought to be born in 1948 and "died a little with each war since." Under Gidron's direction, the shifts from present to past and personal to political are organic. He also keeps Miller moving around the set to avoid monologue stasis and heightens the sense of drama with evocative sound effects.
Like many monologues, the intermissionless ninety minutes do tend to have you looking at your watch occasionally. I think this might have been avoided with the additon of a second minor character -- like the student in Alan Alda's play about Richard Feynman (QED) and the secretary in Alan King's memory play about Sam Goldwyn (Mr. Goldwyn. But then Miller's performance is so finely nuanced that this may seem like a curmudgeonly reservation. She lands her many funny lines (often at the expense of General Dyan, "the one with the eye patch") with precision and makes us feel her pain and regrets. Per her opening statement, she nails down Meir without wig or false nose and stirs our imagination so that we see, not an actress playing a part, but the woman whose life that actress fully inhabits.
Golda's Balcony ends with Meir getting the aid from the U.S. that turned the tide of the Yom Kippur war. But with the events of 9-11 and the current crisis in the Middle East, a happy ending to the struggle between warring neighbors looks more elusive than ever and the question of who has the right to do what remains unanswered.
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