O Jerusalem

From Nov ’07 Spotlight: Tovah Feldshuh will be making two appearances in metro Chicago this year. She’s playing Golda Meir in the new film O Jerusalem, and she’ll be at the North Shore Center in Skokie playing Katherine Hepburn in the one-woman show Tea at Five.

“How did my journey as Golda begin?” she echoed when I called her at home in Manhattan. “I met a woman, a real New York intellectual, and she called me in the summer of 2002 and said, ‘I just saw a play and it’s got your name on it. It’s called Golda’s Balcony.’ I called my manager and my manager pursued and brought me back an offer like that. I said: ‘I’ve played many Jewish mothers, but never the mother of a state,’ and I took on the role.”

Intrigued, I asked her to summarize the difference between being a Jewish mother and being the mother of the Jewish State. “Well,” Feldshuh replied, “I think that actually the reason she was so great is that there was a no difference for her. She so personalized the Jewish state that Israel became her third child.”

Indeed, this is exactly how we first encounter the unnamed character we all recognize as “Golda Meir” in O Jerusalem: when British officers arrest a young Jewish woman, she insists that they arrest her as well. In that scene: “I’m a mother; she’s a mother. A daughter of Israel is being threatened. I am furious, just furious that the police are so unconscious of the threat to this young woman.”

“I didn’t start doing Golda Meir and say: ‘Oh, this is going to be the greatest role of my career.’ Never! I just started to go moment-to-moment in a play that I wasn’t sure fully worked. Director Elie Chouraqui saw me in the play and asked me to do it in the movie, same thing.”

“I played Kate Hepburn very briefly in the earliest part of my career opposite Tommy Lee Jones in The Amazing Howard Hughes. I researched that like a banshee and practiced and practiced and practiced; you have to capture the speech pattern and not imitate it. You have to bring her close. That’s my theory about great acting: bring them close. Find out where she and you correspond and start from there.”

What is it that enables Tovah Feldshuh to embody these iconic women? “The desire to experience a sense of valid power in my own life! They were not willing to be victims; they would not buckle!”

O Jerusalem, which opens locally on November 9, tells the story of the 1948 fight for control of Jerusalem. It tries very hard to be evenhanded and reflect multiple points of view, and while it doesn’t always succeed as drama, it’s a noble effort.

Tea at Five will run from December 19 through December 23 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts. For tickets, visit www.northshorecenter.org or call the Box Office at (847) 673-6300. The Amazing Howard Hughes, an Emmy-winning 1977 made-for-TV movie, is now available on DVD.

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