‘Golda’s Balcony’ full of complicated issues

There were two highly laudatory aspects of "Golda’s Balcony" at The Smith Center on Sunday, and one not so laudatory.

Good things first.

William Gibson — best known for "The Miracle Worker" — has made the fourth prime minister of Israel a multifaceted character. Although you were likely to come out of the one-person show liking Meir, she wasn’t presented as an adorable great-grandmother who liked nothing more than baking cookies. This ruler is equally kind and ruthless. In Gibson’s hand, she’s willing to bring the world nuclear disaster during the 1973 Yom Kippur War if she doesn’t get her way. Yet, she’s tormented that, as a woman, she brings life to the world, but as ruler, she sends young people to their death.

There are two symbolic "balconies" in the play: one in which the prime minister oversees the beauty of countless Jewish immigrants sailing the Mediterranean to Israel, and another that is the watch tower of a nuclear weaponry site. It’s fascinating how Meir frequently ponders the value of life versus annihilation.

"What happens when idealism becomes power?" she questions. Her painful answer: "It kills." Later, she wonders, "To save a world you create — and this is the terrible question — how many worlds are you entitled to destroy?"

When her husband asks the frequently absent politician what she wants for her children, she answers, "I want them to grow up in a world where they’re not afraid to be Jewish." Sounds nice, but then the husband replies, "I want them to have a mother."

Wow, that’s great stuff. Gibson shows us how complicated these issues are, and he doesn’t encourage us to judge. It would be helpful to see a companion piece about a kind Arab statesman who is just as logical as Meir, yet feels Israel must be destroyed. After all, everyone seems to have a "good" reason for threatening nuclear war.

Tovah Feldshuh attacked the role with an entertaining ferocity. She’s a major presence, the kind of talent for whom The Smith Center exists.

However, I felt her performance was an impersonation. Reading the script is far superior to seeing this show, for the simple reason Gibson’s dialogue doesn’t sound like canned jokes. Feldshuh’s professional instincts tell her exactly when to suddenly lower pitch, or act coquettish, or punch up a line. She’s not Meir; she’s an actress playing Meir. She works too hard to win the audience’s love.

I wish I could tell you who directed the piece or did the lighting, or set, or sound, but the Jewish Repertory apparently didn’t think it necessary to distribute program notes. That’s unfair to the audience and crew.

Still, I came away grateful for the emotional insight into a controversial, complicated figure. Had Feldshuh had a director who said, "Forget being an actress, concentrate on character," I have no doubt the star could have made this production an effortless tour-de-force.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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