By Patricia Morris Buckley
SDUN Theatre Critic
Broadway actress Tovah Feldshuh knows all about portraying real-life figures. She’s played such notables as Katharine Hepburn and Tallulah Bankhead, among others. But she’s most famous for her portrayal of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir.
“I love playing historical characters,” Feldshuh said from her home in New York City. “I think acting a real-life person is easier because there’s something for you to study. There’s a lot of footage of Golda, plus I’ve traveled to places that she lived. The success of portraying a historical figure is in how much elbow grease and diligence you put in.”
Feldshuh starred in “Golda’s Balcony,” written by William Gibson, who also penned “The Miracle Worker,” in 2003. It went on to become the longest running one-woman show in Broadway history with 493 performances. Feldshuh was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress.
Since then she has presented the play in London, Los Angeles and Australia. Two years ago, she purchased all rights for the play from Gibson’s estate so she could perform the show in between other acting gigs. She is bringing the play to the Old Globe Theatre for a month (it replaces Roger Rees’ one-man “What You Will,” as he had to cancel due to scheduling conflicts).
“This is something that I hope will be with me for the next quarter of a century,” said Feldshuh, who is best known for playing defense attorney Danielle Melnick on TV’s “Law & Order.” “The play is very smart and accurate. It’s a tour de force for any actor who wants to do it.”
The play follows Meir from her time as a young girl in Russia, hiding under the stairs during pogroms, through her time as an American schoolteacher to becoming the fourth prime minister of Israel. The play also focuses on the Yom Kippur War, when Israel was attacked by Egypt and Syria in 1973, which led to Meir’s downfall.
“Golda was a courageous woman,” Feldshuh said. “She had a vision and she fulfilled her vision. She wanted the Jewish people to live in safety. She was a normal woman who didn’t ask for the office. They elected her and then came to her, asking her to be prime minister. She gave her whole life for the state. That’s why it’s an honor to play her.”
Feldshuh’s beliefs also mirror Meir’s, especially when it comes to the statehood of Israel.
“We’ve got to get peace in the Middle East,” she insisted. “Whether or not people agree, Israel now exists. The Jewish people are not going anywhere.”
By owning the rights to “Golda’s Balcony,” Feldshuh not only can perform the show when and where she wants, but she can also tell others about the woman she respects so much.
“With this play, I get to create opportunities for myself,” she said. “I’m lucky to be able to do it.”
Through May 30
Old Globe Theatre