A Question of Relooking - Golda's Balcony Returns to Shakespeare & Company

Actress Annette Miller revives her iconic role in the one-person Golda’s Balcony this summer at Shakespeare & Company.

This summer, Annette Miller – featured performer at Federation’s Major Donors Celebration in July – revisits one of her signature roles: Golda Meir. Miller first portrayed Zionist icon more than 20 years ago, originating the role at Shakespeare & Company’s production of William Gibson’s Golda’s Balcony, a performance that garnered rave reviews and awards for the actress.

The revival of this one-person drama will be staged from August 5 through August 20 at Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre. When Miller spoke to the BJV in June, she said she was in the process of preparing for the role, examining her evolving feelings toward the former Israeli prime minister and the country she governed and helped birth. She says she knows she will have to present Golda Meir to audiences whose attitudes toward Israel have changed over the last two decades, as well.

Miller asserts, however, that the new production will not be a nostalgia-fest. “Nostalgia – it's very boring. I think [the revival will be] a reinvestigation for all of us. I hope it is. But it’s also a chance to see things in the [context of the] time that they happened. Would Golda be the same person today? I don't know. This isn't a wish to go back. I think the play a working document. I think that Golda was a working document. Things influenced her, which made her make her decisions in her life, just as things make the present people in charge do what they have to do. After, it's a question of relooking at their decisions. It’s so much within our tradition to look at the same words year after year, and find new meanings in them. That's what we do, don't we?”

Miller also says it’s a production with “no bells and whistles”– just the actress holding the stage for 90 minutes, and stripped of some of the theatrical effects added on in the play’s Off-Broadway and Broadway incarnations.

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

The BJV Interview: Annette Miller

What was it like preparing for the role, inhabiting Golda as a character and as a historical figure when you started in 2002?

Well, when I started, it was the first one woman show I did. I was frightened out of my mind. I was very nervous of inhabiting this woman, of such renown, a woman who I had looked up to. I remember when she came to Brandeis, and I was a student there. I graduated in the class of 58. Golda had always been an idol. And there was no young Jewish girl growing up then that didn't know that Golda became prime minister – and so you could be prime minister. She was certainly a hero, and I was concerned with playing her. But the script spoke to me from day one. I think Bill Gibson has written a beautiful script, and even as I work on it now, because I have to relearn all the lines, I keep on thinking it's so good, the words just roll over the tongue.

So how was it playing Golda Meir as a younger woman and now taking the role on as an older woman?

I'm not even looking upon it as older or younger. I'm still as nervous because that comes with the territory, although I’ve done more one-woman shows since. I did Martha Mitchell and I did Deanna Freeland. I had warmed up on Golda. But [the difference] is really what's going on now.

What do you mean by that?

Well, what's happening in the state of Israel now? It's a different state. Golda has great lines. She says they started out creating a state that would be the model of human redemption. That was the purpose of the state. Israel has changed in 20 years. Listen, we all change in 20 years, okay? This isn't the first time, but this is a lot of protesting now, and it's been said that we could be at the point of a civil war, God forbid. So it's a different time. I mean, there are different things at stake. Israel was in a terrible point after the Yom Kippur War, but it seems to be that now, people are concerned about it being a democratic state.

Are you bringing that into the play?

The play is a play. As Golda says, ‘Failure is not my story. I was part of a great success here. Where nothing was, Israel is.’ She can't imagine the thought of losing it, and neither can I. I cannot imagine us not having the state of Israel. I can't imagine Jews without Israel. I don't think it will ever happen. So the play isn't about wondering: there's no differences, we must have a state. That's my commitment, I think, that's in the play.

So this is not a revisionist take on Golda Meir. This is still the golden Golda.

This is Golda. They’re the same words for me. Listen – theater is live. Every night a performance changes. It changes because of the audience. It changes because of the actor. And the audience now is in a different place. The world is in a different place. And this isn't the revisionist view. This is me hearing Golda’s voice again. And she says, ‘Did Israel always come first, even at the cost of their lives?’ She’s talking about her grandchildren. I mean, these are the same questions. What is the price? She starts by telling you a handful of stories, but there's one question which still has to be asked and isn't answered. And that is – what happens, in your struggle, when idealism becomes power? What happens? That's real. That's a real present question that we all have to answer, and we don't have the answer necessarily.

And it's an okay question, but if you're aware of it, if you don't lose too much track, you don't have to have an answer. Golda has this wonderful line. She asks whoever it is up there, ‘In this world that you created, good and evil are like both ends of a single stick. You can't pick up one without the other. Why?’ So these are big questions, and I think the contemplation and the asking, is such a Jewish thing.

Golda’s Balcony will be at Shakespeare & Company’s Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, 70 Kemble Street in Lenox from August 5 through August 20. Written by William Gibson and directed by Daniel Gidron. For more information and tickets, visit shakespeare.org/shows/2023/goldas-balcony/.