June 3, 2004
The Passion of the Tovah
In a life-imitating art moment, Tovah Feldshuh sits in her Broadway dressing room animatedly discussing politics. Feldshuh -- the one-woman star of the play "Golda's Balcony" -- has already transformed herself from an old, disheveled Golda Meir and is reviewing her day in Albany, where she lobbied the state government for more funding for the arts.
She is amazed that the senators gave her a standing ovation.
"Because they have me confused with Golda Meir, I suppose," she muses.
Feldshuh, who is nominated for a Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Play, doesn't actually think anyone mistakes her for the Israeli prime minister, but this last year of passionately rendering Golda has affected her deeply.
"The most immediate change is the understanding that politics is personal," she says. Feldshuh is a longtime fundraiser for Jewish and artistic causes and -- like many actors -- a staunch Democrat.
In "Balcony," the 90-minute play at the Helen Hayes Theatre, she inhabits the septuagenarian on the eve of the Yom Kippur war. (Meir never forgave herself for being caught off guard in 1973, and the losses the war incurred.) The play shifts between the moment at hand -- deciding whether to attack her neighbors or wait -- and the personal life leading up to that moment: her childhood in America, her courtship, her troubled absentee marriage and her life in politics.
Is it hard for Feldshuh to play a politician whose politics she might not support?
"Golda was a practical woman. I don't know if I have her point of view -- but I have her logic," Feldshuh says.
The actress does a grueling, gravelly performance, much of it shouting on the phone, at the audience and to God himself. Felshuh's performance has struck a chord among reviewers and audiences -- which on this night seems to be comprised of religious and elderly Jews and Christians. (Shimon Peres and Ehud Barak have been among the dignitaries who have seen the play.)
Since she began the play, Feldshuh has been following the news, trying to put daily context into her shows. A supporter of the "Seeds of Peace," a nonprofit, nonpolitical organization that helps teenagers from regions of conflict, she is not quite an expert on how her personal politics merge with that of Golda -- who is made more palatable by her fictionalization in the writing of this play.
But even if Feldshuh isn't clear on Golda's politics, she is clear on the woman herself.
"She has given great resonance about dead honesty, truly modest, humble, nonmaterialistic," Feldshuh says. "It's the biggest life I've ever had the privilege of playing."
The Tony Awards air June 6 at 8 p.m. on CBS.