Momma Golda is born
William Gibson's play, GOLDA, had opened on Broadway with Ann Bancroft playing Golda Meir, and a cast of 37. The next production was in South Africa, the cast was cut to 13, and I played Golda. Before leaving Israel for South Africa, I visited Golda Meir in her bungalow...she answered the door, she made the tea. During the conversation she said: "I saw Ann Bancroft playing the part in New York...and she STOOPED! Please don't stoop!!" I promised I wouldn't. She gave me other hints--it was a most beautiful and memorable meeting. When I arrived in South Africa in 1978, they were easing some of the "petty apartheid" rules, and they had just passed a law allowing blacks and whites to sit together in the theatre, but only if approved by the local council. We were to open in Pretoria, and they had not approved.
An acute journalist heard about this, published the story and caused a worldwide scandal, that a mixed audience would not be allowed to see this play about Golda Meir. The council met again, but again refused because they said our theatre was in a "white residential area". Our management, the National Theatre of the Transvaal, had a tradition that the night before the opening night, there would be a performance for all their black workers and their families. So my first performance was for an all black audience. I couldn't help wondering why, with so many problems of their own, they should care about pogroms, Israel, the Yom Kipper war...
At the end of the play, I speak directly to the audience about Israel, ".....all we've ever had is a choice of dangers, and the paradise we promised ourselves, we haven't made it yet. This Jewish state doesn't give us security, it gives us something better...opportunities........70 years ago my father, Moishe the carpenter, nailed up planks of wood across the door of our little house in Kiev to keep out a pogrom! I can still hear the hammer. And to come in one lifetime, all the way from the sound of that hammer, to life in a State of our own, where we can defend our children, and be free, and take in every brother who wants to come home, what more can a Jew ask? Our lives have been blessed, whatever the cost....... One word more before I go, the best word (picking out people in the front row) Shalom, Shalom, Shalom"
At that moment a black man half way back in the audience sprang to his feet and called out "Shalom!", waving to Golda. Then a lady on the other side waving and calling out...and then the entire audience stood and waved and called out "Shalom, Shalom, Shalom"! Then I realised how much the play had meant to them, and that after this performance not one of them would be allowed to come and see it. And I stood on the stage and wept.
I returned to Israel, where I was living with Peter, and in 1979 it was Peter's idea that we should adapt the play for just 2 actors, which we did, with William Gibson's blessing. We created our version while I was on tour in England with THE BEGGARS OPERA, with Edward Woodward and Michele Dotrice.
The Leeds Playhouse agreed to present our version, after we had finished our projected trip around the world, and trusted us to have it ready when we returned just 2 days before the opening night. Our first run-through was to be for William Gibson, the original author, in his home in Stockbridge, Mass. on January 12, 1980. On the way we had stayed in Albany, and been interviewed on local radio by a man called Bill Edwardson, and he offered to take us in his car to Stockbridge. And he stayed with us all day.
The house of Bill Gibson and his wife Margaret was up a quiet country lane...a big, rambling wooden house with 13 rooms and an indoor swimming pool. It was filled from floor to ceiling with thousands of books, records, newpapers, magazines..in every room. Nowhere was a clear surface, or enough floor space to perform our play. Bill's manager, David Cogan, was also there. Bill Edwardson found where the drink was kept and helped himself until he was completely sozzled.
It was decided that we should perform in Bill and Margaret's bedroom. There were 2 large beds, and a small clear space at the bottom. Bill Edwardson collapsed on the floor in a drunken heap, Bill and Margaret lay on one bed, David Cogan lay on the other bed and promptly fell fast asleep. Somehow we got to the end, and before anybody could say anything, David opened his eyes, sat up in bed and said, very loudly, "That was great! We must take it to Broadway"!!
We stayed with Bill and Margaret--next morning when we opened the curtains in our bedroom, we found it overlooked the indoor swimming pool, and there were Bill and Margaret swimming totally naked! Bill worked with us all day and approved the script. The only time Bill saw us perform was some years later in the White Barn Theatre, in Connecticut. We always did our show with no light changes, but on this occasion a very keen young man at the theatre persuaded Peter that we should do it with lighting. He and Peter stayed up all night and created a Lighting Plot. When it came to the performance, with Bill in the audience, it was disaster. Wherever we were doing a scene was in darkness, with pools of light streaming onto the wrong place. I can still feel the upset, disappointment and hurt that the only performance Bill ever saw, was our worst.
MOMMA GOLDA II
After our performance in Stockbridge we continued our round the world trip. A friend in Los Angeles said he could arrange a performance for us in the Barbra Streisand theatre in the Jewish Centre. Wonderful! It was my old friend Julie Andrews who steered us to the best costume designer and to the place for Props. For me padding, a wig, a false nose, false eyebrows. The first performance went well, we did it again in the Drama Department of a University, then we we packed up the costumes and props and shipped them to Leeds, to await our premiere at the Leeds Playhouse.
After Los Angeles we flew to Hawaii, to the island of Kauai. A distant cousin, Denise Kaufman, who lived there, heard of our arrival and insisted we stay with her. She had a charming house in the jungle, one side of our bedroom had no wall or window, just some anti-insect netting, and her shower and bath were in the garden. When she heard about MOMMA GOLDA she said: "We are starved for theatre here on this little island. Please will you perform it for us?" "We have no props or costumes." "Do it just as you are, as if it were a rehearsal--PLEASE" We agreed.
Denise was a divorcee with a 9-year old daughter, and she decided that we should perform in her daughter's school. She gathered an audience of about 40, and next evening we did it. In our version, Peter spoke a lot directly to the audience and he said that near the beginning he saw a lady on the first row weeping...so he did the rest of the show straight to her!! The enthusiasm of the audience at the end was remarkable. So Peter said to me: "We have learned 2 things tonight. First, never again will you wear padding, a wig, a nose and such, you will do it as you did tonight, with ACTING. Second, wherever we go round the world, we will perform this as our contribution to Israel".
And so it was. We performed in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Russia, Finland and Norway.
MOMMA GOLDA III
Peter was very well known in Israel, so he contacted the Israel Ambassador in Tokyo, who organised a performance for us in the Tokyo Synagogue.
While in Tokyo we went to a rehearsal of the 36th revival of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF! It was explained that every show ran for a month, and if successful would be frequently revived. This Jewish story, played by an all-Japanese cast, was played with such sincerity and dedication, Peter and I wept. All those Japanese families lighting the Sabbath candles and singing the Sabbath blessing. When it was time to leave, I said: "I have had an idea. I have played the mother, Golde, 4 times, and I want to sing DO YOU LOVE ME with the Japanese Tevye, Hisaya Morishige". The Japanese Golde was a sweet, gentle little wife with a quiet voice. We bagan. Tevye sang in Japanese: "Do you love me?" And when I bellowed in English in my loudest voice: "Do I WHAT???" Tevye staggered back in terror....oh how they all laughed. That is how he finished the song!
At the door as we were leaving, Hisaya Morishige came over to us and, through the interpreter, said: "It interests me very much that this show goes well in the West. It is so Japanese."
An ex-student of Peter's, Ilan Toren, contacted Peter from Kyoto. He was on a theatre scholarship given by a Japanese-Christian sect who are great supporters of Israel. He told us they had a guest house, and had invited us to stay there. Onto the bullet train, and off we went!
Our guest house was in a complex which included a church and a seminary. We were cared for by a darling girl called Miyako, slept on mattresses on the floor, after showering got into a very deep bath with hot water up to the neck, had delicious Japanese food. Kyoto was beautiful, and Miyako refused to let us pay her. Peter said; "You are great supporters of Israel and we do a play about Israel. Would you like us to peform it, and are there enough people in the complex who understand English?" So we did it! In the Church--I removed my shoes entering the Church, it was agreed I could wear them while acting Golda, removed them at the end of the show and carried them out. The Japanese have a habit if making noises while you are talking to prove they are listening...they didn't want to disturb our show so they stayed silent, but they made all the nodding and gesturing in the audience while we performed, and at the end showed that they had loved it.
The next morning we had ordered a taxi to collect us at 7.15 to take us to the station to return to Tokyo. Miyako asked us to come early for breakfast as she had a surprise for us. There was a tiny dining room leading into a tiny sitting room, and at 7.00 I heard a noise from the sitting room. "What's that noise? "That's the surprise, come through". And there was their world-famous choir, 30 beautiful young Japanese, who had come to sing to us to thank us for our performance.
Peter and I sat on the couch, and they started to sing, in Hebrew, the famous song about Jerusalem "Yerusalayim shel Zahav". Then other songs about Jerusalem and the Holy Land, in Hebrew, with their faces shining and looking up as if seeing a vision. Peter and I wept. At 7.15 the taxi arrived, and they all came out to wave us goodbye.