This is a first for Tovah Feldshuh, who is starring in the one-woman show about Golda Meir opening at Fort Lauderdale’s Parker Playhouse Wednesday, Jan. 22.
“I’ve played lots of Jewish mothers, but never the mother of a state,” she says.
“Golda’s Balcony” is celebrating its 10th anniversary and is the longest-running one-woman show in Broadway history, with 493 performances. The run in Broward is part of the WinterStage series.
Feldshuh — who received Tony nods for this play as well as “Lend Me a Tenor,” “Sarava” and “Yentl” — recently spoke to me by phone from backstage at “Pippin,” where she played Berthe in the Broadway musical (Sunday was her last performance):
So you just finished singing your big number, “No Time at All,” in the first act. How did it go tonight?
“Well, it’s a full trapeze act, and it stopped the show. I start out this old woman, and then I strip off my robe and I do a full-out trapeze act while singing.”
I detect a strong sense of activism in your work, specifically with television and movies. Your brother wrote the play “Miss Evers’ Boys.” Where does that come from?
“It comes from good parenting. My mother is still alive.”
I heard you have dinner with her every Wednesday night.
“Yes, I just said goodbye to her. Anyway, when I started school she said, “You sit by Sam Houston on the bus.” Sam Houston was the only African-American going to school in Scarsdale. And with that, prejudice just flew out the window. Of course, with my parents I had one Democrat and one Republican.”
“Golda’s Balcony” has such incredible detail. How did the playwright get that?
“[Playwright] William Gibson was the only person she would allow to follow her around. He followed Golda everywhere in Israel for six months. And he did a play, a multi-character play in like 1977.”
That was with Anne Bancroft, right?
“Yes, and oddly enough it failed. So when our director...said he wanted to do it, Gibson said, ‘Please don’t do it.’ But he saw it as a one-woman show off-Broadway. And another thing we did different from the Broadway script is change all the verbs. I made them active. So it’s not like Walter Cronkite saying, ‘This happened on such and such a date or that happened.’ Instead, it’s ‘I am doing this.’ I’m living it. Being in the moment. That was the turning point for me, the fulcrum.”
I think a lot of people would be surprised that the “balcony” in the title refers to Israel’s Dimona nuclear weapons facility and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. I mentioned it to [a friend] and he thought it was like “Evita” or something.
[Laughing] “Oh you’re kidding. That’s right. It’s about nuclear disarmament, idealism and its relationship with power. Creation or destruction?”
What don’t we know about Golda Meir?
“First of all, she had a wonderful sense of humor. The second thing is that she had lovers. You know power is sexy. How else could Kissinger have all those photographs come out of him kissing Jill St. John? She had a Milwaukee accent. You’d think she was related to Jackie Mason. This [play] is about what happens when idealism becomes power.”
How do you do that when it’s just you onstage?
“She goes from 8 to 80, from 1898 to 1978. She goes back in time, and as she depicts people in different times in her life, she goes back to that age. I look like bloody hell with the varicose veins, gray hair and everything. But then, I get into it, and the body responds. We’re doing some meet-and-greets, and I’ll be out there in full regalia, the varicose veins and all. You’ll never see me dressed like this again, I tell you, so come and see.”
I know you’re very athletic, and I know you’ve been to South Florida many times, so I was wondering if you plan on trying something like wind surfing while you’re here. You could put all that trapeze training you’ve had to good use. Or maybe you have a favorite restaurant you can’t wait to visit again?
[Laughing] “I’m crazy for lobster, Jewish contingent notwithstanding. I’m crazy for seafood. I’m in pretty good shape. I lost 30 pounds in ‘Pippin.’ I weigh what I weighed in seventh grade. Wind surfing, now that sounds interesting.”
“Golda’s Balcony” will run Jan. 22-26 at Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., in Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $28-$66.50. Call 954-462-0222 or go to ParkerPlayhouse.com.
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