Golda Meir (Tovah Feldshuh) can only appeal to her audience in the face of such a mixed-up, shook-up world.
Just before curtain at The Old Globe Theatre's Golda's Balcony, my companion thumbed through her program for some dish on Golda Meir's children, explaining that the late former Israeli prime minister always worried whether the kids were OK with her line of work. Some unrelated biographical info gives more insight into Golda's concern: “I'm not really sure,” she said, “that being proud of one's mother makes up for her frequent absences.”
Meir may have been AWOL at home, but as this show illustrates, her maternal instinct was the force behind her every waking hour. Listen to the color and emotion as actor Tovah Feldshuh's Meir declares Israel “our sta-a-ate”; she's clearly proclaiming the Zionist bastion “our chi-i-ild,” and that's as much due to writer William Gibson's lush back-story as to Feldshuh's use of anecdote. Golda's Balcony is a stirring, very human account of Meir's life and her handling of the 1973 Yom Kippur War that would mark her unlikely worldwide notoriety.
Meir, who died in Jerusalem at age 80 in 1978, was born Goldie Mabovich in the Ukrainian city of Kiev, escaping local anti-Semitism amid her family's move to Milwaukee in 1906. Her next stop was Denver, where she took in debates on women's rights, Zionism, trade unions and other issues whose importance would follow her into office. An unquenchable intellect propelled her to an Israeli kibbutz and through the nation's political ranks before she was elected prime minister in 1969; on her watch four years later, nearly 6,000 Israeli soldiers lay dead or wounded as Egyptian and Syrian forces launched the Yom Kippur attack (somehow, Israel snatched victory from the jaws of defeat).
Through it all stood Meir—tough, defiant and privately panicked as she dug her country out of harm's way (the tech in these scenes is uniformly excellent). With the help of production consultant Scott Schwartz, the mom thing permeates Golda's speeches, especially during Gibson's discussion of her attraction / marriage to sign painter Morris Meyerson; she looks and acts more like a washerwoman than a prime minister, chain-smoking her way to the cancer that would kill her. Feldshuh, a four-time Tony nominee, has the character down move for move (her Henry Kissinger imitations are a riot!), although her quiet facial beauty runs counter to Meir's dour, almost masculine look. Then again, I've seen a photo of Meir at 16—she was one industrial-grade babe in those days, so maybe the discrepancy isn't that farfetched.
That pic was taken in 1914. This is 2010. The Middle East dilemma is more difficult than ever, and it will cease only, as Meir once declared, “when the Arabs love their children more than they hate the Jews.” The reference to kids certainly wasn't lost on me at this show—meanwhile, my date got a partial answer to her question. Childly pride in a mom's accomplishments is one thing, but in a dangerous world like ours, that mother's love takes many forms.
This review is based on the opening-night performance of May 1. Golda's Balcony runs through May 30 at The Old Globe Theatre's Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park. $29-$77. www.oldglobe.org. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.