No one ever won a war in a housecoat — a point shrewdly acknowledged by producers and creatives in retooling this sellout Off Broadway production for mainstream transfer. In a not-so-subtle shift from her earlier, heart-tugging treatment of Golda Meir as Big Mother in a Bunker, Tovah Feldshuh injects more steel into her portrayal of the beleaguered prime minister of Israel during the 78-hour period at the start of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when she sweated out the decision to play the nuclear weapons card.
The emphatic polemics of Gibson’s script — which finds the prime minister justifying to future generations and to her own idealistic self the decision to assemble Israel’s secret nuclear war arsenal at Dimona — play better in a showier theatrical setting. The warplanes are closer and the bombs louder in Scott Schwartz’s more expansive staging of war-game exercises that looked cramped on the smaller stage. As stacked into impregnable surrounding walls, the massive stones of Anna Louizos’ set not only reflect Meir’s state of mind but also provide a backdrop for wraparound projections of street and battle scenes outside the war room.
Instead of being diminished by the sound-and-light-show effects, the diminutive Tovah Feldshuh gives a commanding performance. It acknowledges Meir’s stature as a strong-willed politician who, at a time of international crisis, reassured a worried world that she was, indeed, in charge of her country’s destiny. At the same time, Feldshuh captures the humanity of the woman, in flashbacks of domestic tranquility, in memories of an idealistic youth, and especially in soul-searching arguments with herself over the ironic absurdity of going to war in the cause of peace.
Given the nationalistic context of the play, which doesn’t raise a single serious philosophical doubt about the rationale for nuclear war, it’s a crowd-pleasing performance sure to please the crowd it’s aimed at. As toughened up, show begs to be taken on the road — if not to environs of Detroit, then to major cities with a high concentration of built-in Jewish audiences.