Iron Lady, meet Iron Lady.
One is Golda Meir, the late fourth prime minister of Israel—who earned the term before it was ever affixed to Great Britain’s Margaret Thatcher. Meir was once described as the “strong-willed, straight-talking, gray-bunned grandmother of the Jewish people.”
The other is veteran actress Tovah Feldshuh (Law & Order), who portrays her in Golda’s Balcony. A 16-month run, from 2003-05, made her the star of Broadway’s longest-running-one-woman play, snaring her a Tony nomination. While strolling the streets of New York, Feldshuh chatted with Vegas Seven about her show, which will visit The Smith Center on April 1.
You’re CX-310-230 about do the first theater piece ever at our new performing arts center. How does that feel?
To be that statistic, that’s almost as good as the longest-running one-woman play in the history of Broadway.
It had modest beginnings.
We opened in a 140-seat theater, the Manhattan Ensemble Theater in SoHo. Very chic. We were next to a Japanese grocery store. I mean, please.
Was it intimidating to physically become Golda?
Preparation CX-310-231 was enormous. I had no fat suit at the time, no false nose, false legs, false hair. I even make my own vascular system. I take pieces of yarn and in the sculpting of the veins, I’m able to embody her. And I get to put on those knockers—the woman is huge! I know I don’t look like her, sound like her, have her body type or her face. I was hoping to do Munich for Steven Spielberg. He said, “Love you, love your work. You don’t look like her.”
How did Balcony get to Broadway?
We opened off Broadway and doggone it if there weren’t lines around the block. We had a notion we should take it to Broadway and we were able to raise money in about five days. If you go to a Jewish philanthropist and say, “Do you love Golda Meir?” then that’s it. You raise that money in a flash of an eye.
What qualities made her great?
She never wanted power. There’s nothing more appealing than a capable person who doesn’t want power. She never wanted to be prime minister, and she was the only one they could agree on unanimously. As prime minister, she got radiation at night. She ran the country with cancer that would later kill her. She sat in the front seat with her driver. The first time she saw the prime minister’s house, she said, “My God, what do I need this for?”
A theme in the play is the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Egypt and Syria attacked Israel and Golda threatened nuclear retaliation unless America aided Israel. Is that relevant again because of Iran’s nuclear buildup now?
It has terrible resonance. It’s universal, timely and terrifying. There are barbarians at the gate.
Do you regret not being cast in the 2007 film that starred Valerie Harper instead of you?
Very much. I’ve never seen it. Someone felt it would be better to give it to a TV star. I don’t agree. Valerie Harper is a wonderful woman and if through her film, [it] helped Golda live, more power to her. There will be a time when I will be recorded. Everything happens in its season.
What is it about her story that resonates with people?
She may have been born in Kiev but by 8 years old she was living in Milwaukee. She started out hiding under the stairs from a pogrom in Kiev and wound up in the halls of the Knesset. It was the American dream.