All Hail Annette Miller!
Annette Miller finished her second run of “Golda’s Balcony” by William Gibson this weekend at Shakespeare & Company. Her first was its World Premiere in 2002, which was also directed by Daniel Gidron, where she created the role of Golda Meir in the one-woman show by Stockbridge resident Gibson, who also wrote “The Miracle Worker” and “Two for the Seesaw.” Her performance won Boston’s Elliot Norton Best Actor Award and the Independent Reviewers of New England Best Actor Award. The play went on to have a Broadway run with Tovah Feldshuh and set the record for the longest-running one-woman show.
The play is a biographical drama, educating us on many aspects of the fourth Prime Minister of Israel, including that she was a Russian immigrant and taught school in Wisconsin and her long and sometimes loving marriage to her husband, Morris. Goldman comes up with a vital setting for the play, which works tremendously for the actress, the audience, and most importantly, for the portrayal of this commanding figure of the 20th century. As she is telling us her life story, the Prime Minister is managing the catastrophe of the Yom Kippur War of 1973. On the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Egyptian and Syrian forces surprise attacked Israeli forces looking to recover disputed land. Over the course of several days, Meir worked the phones, looking to recruit the United States help in the face of overwhelming forces that Russia was backing. It is a tense, knotty, and heart-quickening dynamic that plays out in the small office set by Patrick Brennan, in which Miller stalks like a panther, constantly moving, sitting, standing, grabbing a podium, and putting on and removing a smart tailored jacket by costume designer Govane Lohbauer.
Twenty years is a long time to return to a role, especially in a one-woman show, and while I didn’t see it 20 years ago, it is hard to believe that it could be better than the performance just completed. Annette Miller has created an astounding performance of surprising power, tenderness, conviction, acerbic wit, and athletic strength. She is on fire from the moment the lights come up and doesn’t let up for the play’s 90 minutes. While there are occasional quieter moments and sips of water while she’s seated in her office armchair, I was more often riveted by the intensity of Miller’s faith in the importance of Meir’s defense of her people and their land. It was a spiritual, emotional, and civic triumph of commitment.
When looking at what’s required by this play that Gibson wrote, it seems like an impossible task: be a charming host welcoming an audience to the story of your life, regale them with amusing anecdotes, and recruit them to your beliefs and your view of the world, all while making us believe she is managing a genuine military crisis that killed over 2,500 in a very short period of time. Maybe we should select our leaders based on their ability to perform a one-person show, but we know there are few who could measure up. Annette Miller makes you believe Golda Meir could.