When speaking with Tovah Feldshuh, one thing becomes clear: just like the character she portrays in Golda’s Balcony, she wants to see peace in the Middle East. Feldshuh, through her performance as Golda Meir, hopes to help Atlantans see the importance of Israel in the world.
For Feldshuh Golda’s Balcony holds a special importance. “It is a plea for peace” in the Middle East she says, and because of that fact, she has played the role of Meir almost 700 times in the last eight years. “Unfortunately, [the play]is still relevant today,” she comments. “Part of the reason I do this play is that not enough has changed.”
While the story has political and historical overtones, it tells the story of one woman. During the play Feldshuh portrays Golda Meir who was the Prime Minister of Israel from 1969 to 1974, although the play mainly focuses on the time around the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
According to Feldshuh, audiences will learn that Meir “is a mother desperate for peace,” and she seeks to portray the character in such a light. Further, she mentions that Meir is “an observant learner, and she never had a thought or ambition to be Prime Minister.”
While Meir was Prime Minister, Feldshuh comments that Meir practiced the beliefs she espoused in public. “She was a true utopian socialist and walked the walk,” she says. According to Feldshuh, Meir didn’t believe a “janitor should get a bigger salary than she did when the janitor had ten kids and she had two.” Plus, Meir lived simply. Feldshuh states that in Meir’s home her “bedroom was smaller than some of the walk-in closets we have.”
In addition, Feldshuh admires other characteristics of Meir. “I love that she loved to learn and love that she stood for something, that she took the blame for the debacle of the ‘73 war,” she states, and playing the role has even changed her in a way. She comments, “What I’ve learned from her is the value of being quiet in a room and seeing what is needed before I speak.”
One of the things that Feldshuh hopes audience members take away is the importance of Israel’s role in the world. As an ambassador for Middle East peace, she passionately wants audience members to see that “Israel has been of great service to the freedom movement of the Middle East.”
Even though the play is about a historical time period, the play’s relevance to today’s political landscape can’t be overlooked. With the recent controversy over U.S. and Israeli relations, President Obama’s stand on the Middle East peace talks and the request to the United Nations to create a Palestinian state, the message inherent in the play becomes more important.
“The play helps us see why Israel exists, what it faces every day, and what it is to the perseverance of American Democracy,” she says. “I think it will remind Americans of how much Israel is dedicated to its greatest ally.”
Feldshuh adds, “I do hope there is a Palestinian State. Unfortunately, they can’t be armed. They are still pledged to the destruction of Israel.” Like Meir, she understands the importance of having a democracy in the Middle East. “People want a voice. Women are saying, ‘Why can’t I drive a car in my own country?’” For these people who are yearning for freedom, she mentions that Israel and the U.S. allow the people of the Middle East to see the promises that democracy brings. She comments that when democracy comes, the country will be empowered. “One man, one vote – It says you matter. The President has one vote, the tailor has one vote. The worker gets one vote and the Secretary of State gets one vote. You matter.”
Despite playing the role for almost eight years, it still brings joy to Feldshuh, and performing remains a true love for her. Golda’s Balcony has earned her several awards, accolades and critical praise. “It’s lovely; I am grateful,” she says. “My pursuit of excellence means something; I am very grateful.”
The run at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre marks the first time that Feldshuh has performed the role in the south, and it is an opportunity she welcomes. “I am just an American kid who got to do a great play, and I am honored to do it,” she says. “I dearly hope Atlanta supports this show. Maybe Golda’s Balcony, with its insight, will change a few lives for the better.”
Golda’s Balcony, starring Tovah Feldshuh, plays at the Alliance Theatre through October 30. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.alliancetheatre.org/.
By Kenny Norton