Actress Tovah Feldshuh has earned four Tony nominations and two Emmy nominations. She has won four Drama Desk Awards and four Outer Critics Circle Awards. She’s appeared on TV in “Citizen Cohn” and “Law & Order,” and in films such as Kissing Jessica Stein and A Walk on the Moon. But the role for which Feldshuh is best known is that of legendary Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in Golda’s Balcony, which she has played off and on for more than eight years. We recently spoke with the New York native about her love of the theatre, how she relates to Golda’s story and the challenges of carrying a one-woman show.
You’ve done many movies and TV shows. What keeps you coming back to the theatre?
I love people. I love being with the people sitting out in the house to witness this storytelling. It goes back thousands of years, to when the Greeks would speak to the gods through their priests, which became their actors. It was an uplifting and noble mission to begin with, and only later in its history did being an actress become akin to being the mistress of a king. (Laughs)
Of all the shows you’ve done, what makes Golda’s Balcony special?
It created history. It became the longest-running one-woman play in 100 years of Broadway. It was a piece that people kept coming back to because it’s so densely historical and informative. When there was going to be a play about the prime minister, she only wanted one playwright – William Gibson, “that boy who wrote The Miracle Worker”– because she thought that was a great piece. He was allowed to track her for six months, and he’s very accurate in his research.
What aspects of Golda’s story are the most resonant for you?
It’s journey that she takes. She starts off hiding under a staircase from the Czarist-sponsored slaughters of the Jewish people. She ends up running a country whose language is not even her native language. First she learns Russian, then English, and then Hebrew. She didn’t ask to be prime minister: The Israeli parliament came to her and said, “Golda, please, you’re the only person we can agree on!” She went to the prime minister’s residence, and her first words were, “What do I need this for?” She did not seek power.
What are the biggest rewards and challenges of doing a one-woman show?
The great thing about having the privilege of allowing a part to marinate in you for eight years is that you begin to acquire it on a cellular level. You want to get something accurate, excellent and effortless. As time rolls on, it becomes more habitual and subconscious. That’s a pleasure. The actor does all the research to know everything about the character so that the character can get onstage and know nothing. It’s like a jazz riff: I wipe the slate clean and see what comes up that day.
You got your first Tony nomination in 1976 for Yentl. What keeps your passion for this craft thriving?
Part of it is the offers I get. [And] I was born in New York, where Broadway actors are the stars for the local populous. I got one piece of hate mail in 16 years of working on Broadway, and it had a return address!
Now that we have e-mail and the world is becoming one big township, the highway of information is flooding all over these dictatorships, and we have situations like Libya and Egypt. … I feel that you have a right to a good laugh, particularly under dire circumstances. God knows that, in this play, I look for every piece of humor I can dredge up to keep my beloved audience laughing through their astonishment and tears.
Golda’s Balcony plays the Alliance Theatre Oct. 12-30.
Bret Love is the founder of ecotourism/conservation site GreenGlobalTravel.com; the national managing editor of INsite magazine; and music editor for Georgia Music Magazine. He freelances for more than a dozen other national and international publications, and performs on numerous improv teams with Jackpie at Relapse Theatre.