Playwright William Gibson wasn’t happy with the 1977 Broadway production of his play “Golda,” so in his 88th year he’s revisiting the life of late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir via a newly written one-woman play, “Golda’s Balcony.” It’s scheduled to run at Shakespeare & Co.’s Lenox base through Aug. 25 and then go off on a 24-city U.S. tour, including New York.
A crash course in the history of Israel and the life of Meir, the play imparts a lot of information in its 90 minutes. Thanks to the vigor of Gibson’s writing and actor Annette Miller’s strong performance, “Golda’s Balcony” is often involving and enlightening. But there are stretches when it’s more of a lecture than a theater piece, a tiring fact that Gibson and Israeli-born director Daniel Gidron need to address. Otherwise, the play is likely to end up preaching only to the converted.
Gibson has set his documentary monologue during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, but it ranges far and wide in time and place. Pit stops include Meir’s early childhood in a Russia rife with pogroms, her years in Milwaukee and Denver after she and her family came to the U.S., and her life in what eventually became Israel in 1948 (she emigrated to Palestine with her husband in 1921).
She was Israel’s prime minister in 1973, and it seems that the “balcony” of the play’s title was Israel’s uranium mine, which had made it possible for its army to have nuclear warheads at the ready in its fight against Egypt and Syria. The play seems all the more pertinent by the fact that Israel is again (or still) in perilous times.
Meir’s husband and two children inevitably take second place to her commitment to Israel, to the memory of the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, and to the fervor of her admitted life’s work, no less than “the redemption of the human race.” Meir was rocklike in her intransigence, a facet expertly projected by Miller, who readily suggests Meir’s mental and physical stolidity.
The monologue is directed right at the audience, which is at close quarters in a drawing room in Shakespeare & Co.’s Spring Lawn mansion. Miller’s aplomb is impressive (though that she’s not a name performer may not be good for the box office on tour).
There is no real set, just a few props including a desk, a lecture stand, several chairs, some maps and, of course, a phone. The apt sound effects include air-raid sirens; a ticking clock; and a few snippets of music, one of the loves of Meir’s husband. Obviously a powerful speaker (she raised $50 million on one tour of the U.S. that aimed at $25 million), Meir was the epitome of mother Earth and mother Israel as she made chicken soup for her soldiers and sorted out conflicting advice from her generals. But sometimes the transitions from Israel’s history to her personal history are too abrupt, and just when we think we’re really getting to know this woman, we’re jerked elsewhere.
Toward the end of the play the script acknowledges (a bit arbitrarily) that Palestinians also have the right to want their own state, but inevitably “Golda’s Balcony” is utterly pro Israel. It ends with Meir retreating from the stage with a repeated farewell, “Shalom,” the Hebrew word for peace.