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Going for Golda: Annette Miller as Golda Meir.

My Favorite Meir
By James Yeara

Golda’s Balcony
By William Gibson, Directed by Daniel Gidron

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, Mass., through Aug. 25

Seldom does a critic have the fortune to see a production of a new play that causes the audience to laugh frequently, nod its collective head in agreement often, and cry openly at one monumental moment; thus it should be a rare review that raves about a play. William Gibson’s new play, Golda’s Balcony, is astounding theater, one that deserves its standing ovation and critical applause. This one-woman show runs 95 minutes, but it achieves wonders in those 95 minutes. It should not be missed by anyone who is interested in history, who struggles to understand the Middle East imbroglios, who enjoys laughing and learning, or who simply wonders where meaningful, challenging, and intelligent theater has disappeared to. It reappears fully in Golda’s Balcony.

Performed in the Spring Lawn Theatre, a 99-seat salon that looks so like the former Salon Theatre at Shakespeare & Co.’s former haunts that I wondered where the latter’s uncomfortable seats and scaffolding were, Golda’s Balcony features the fascinating storytelling of former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (Annette Miller, in a sort of one-woman ensemble-acting tour de force). The title refers to the observation room overlooking the creation of Israel’s nuclear weapons; in nonlinear fashion, Meir tells the audience how she came to frequent the room so often that it was jokingly called “Golda’s Balcony.” It’s one of the grimmer laughs in a play surprisingly full of humor.

Golda’s Balcony fascinates with its careful attention to Meir’s personal connection to Israel’s history and survival. Seemingly with just her spine and her breath, Miller creates Meir. As Miller materializes in the salon, she tells us, “No wigs, no swollen leg, no false nose. Use your imagination,” and then she hangs her purse on the crook of her left elbow, shumbles to the salon windows overlooking the veranda, and Golda Meir tells us whatever stories she pleases.

All of them please.

Miller’s Meir is, as she tells us, “Mamala Golda, who makes chicken soup for her soldiers . . . but at the bottom of the pot . . . is blood, at the bottom of the pot is the question.” Miller melts into Meir so completely that even as she relates both sides of her many conversations with her mother, father, husband Morris, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Henry Kissinger, or any of the other dozen people sharing her balcony, Meir towers. Even if it were possible to separate the conflict and humor that playwright Gibson weaves so masterfully into the play, Golda’s Balcony would make the must-see list simply for Miller’s acting.

Miller’s portrayal of Meir’s handling of the 1973 Yom Kippur War works as the spine of the piece. Meir’s humor makes the horror that faced Israel and the world chilling. That Meir—so human a person, so full of stories, so bursting with empathy—came so close to using nuclear bombs is stunning. Golda’s Balcony is just the play that needs to be seen now, just as Meir is the sort of politician we need now. Seldom does any theater company anywhere produce a play as good and as important as Golda’s Balcony, and seldom do area theatergoers have the opportunity to see something this good. Don’t waste it.

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