STONINGTON — When Sandra Laub saw Tovah Feldshuh play Golda Meir in “Golda’s Balcony” on Broadway, she vowed that one day she, too, would play the role of the legendary world leader and fourth prime minister of Israel.
So, when Ed Shea, the artistic director of the Second Story Theatre, called Laub last spring and asked if she’d be interested in starring in William Gibson’s one-woman play, she was ready.
“I immediately said ‘yes,’ ” said Laub, who lives in Pawcatuck and teaches English at Chariho High School. “I’m thrilled. This is very meaningful for me.”
“Golda’s Balcony” opened in previews last week at Second Story Theatre’s historic Bristol Statehouse courtroom to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the attacks in Germany and Austria that historians recognize as the beginning of the Holocaust. Meir, who settled on a kibbutz in Palestine in 1921, was known as the “Iron Lady” of Israeli politics and served as prime minister from 1969 to 1974; she died in 1978.
In the play, Laub is the only actor on stage for the entire 90 minute performance.
“It’s been a tremendous experience already,” said Laub, who spent the summer memorizing her lines. “It’s so personal for me. It’s my heritage, my Jewishness, my parents, my grandparents, my daughter.”
“One of the reasons I think Ed wanted me was because he wanted someone with a personal connection,” she said. “Someone with a connection to the Jewish faith — a personal connection. It is, after all, a tender subject.”
“I remember the Yom Kippur War,” said Laub, a New Yorker who moved to Rhode Island 18 years ago. “I remember that I was going to temple.”
The play, a story of war and peace, opens on the eve of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and uses flashbacks to let Meir tell the story of her life: her journey from Russian immigrant to American schoolteacher to a leader of international politics.
Shea called the play “a remarkable one-woman tour de force.”
“She’s quite the actress,” he said. “She’s really, really, really good. There aren’t a whole lot of people who can play this role. She can hold an audience.”
The play is directed by Bryna Wortman, an associate professor at the University of Rhode Island, where she heads the acting and directing programs.
Shea said he was drawn to the play because of its historical significance and because of the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht. He remembered that Wortman and Laub had worked together and realized having two Jewish women working on the play would be a perfect pairing.
“They both understand the cultural and religious aspects,” he said, “and it’s a perfect courthouse play, a perfect venue for this intimate look at a remarkable life, as Golda puts her political and personal choices on trial. The courthouse has almost a Quaker meetinghouse feel about it, a spiritual aspect.”
“We have a mutual rapport and a mutual trust,” said Wortman, who has worked off-Broadway and directed Linda Hunt, Jimmy Smits and the late Colleen Dewhurst.
Wortman said the play, which opened on Broadway in October 2003, is formidable. “It’s an exciting piece of theater,” she said, “inspiring and challenging ... and Sandy is a consummate professional. She comes to the table prepared and always does her research.”
Laub said, “It’s a dramatic version of history, but not meant to be a polemic or a history lesson ... it’s more complicated than that” — a treatment that has more to do with the problems of trying to keep peace and what happens when idealism becomes power.
“It’s such a fascinating story and journey,” she said, “especially considering Meir was a woman, a mother and was married ... and there she was anguishing over a decision whether to go to war ... to kill ... to take lives in order to save lives.”
Laub’s daughter, Emma, a singer and a graduate of Chariho High School, is included in the play, making the experience even more personal for Laub.
Wortman arranged for Emma to record HaTikvah, the Israeli national anthem, which can be heard by the audience. “I’m so proud she’s part of the show,” Laub said.
Laub has performed at The Gamm, Perishable, URI and Brown University theaters, The Granite Theater, Courthouse for the Arts in Kingston, and throughout the state at libraries and senior centers in her own adaptation of the letters of George Bernard Shaw and Mrs. Patrick Campbell.
She performed with the New York Shakespeare Festival, Circle Rep, WPA, The Equity Library Theater, and in various theaters performing her adaptation of Madame Bovary. She has taught theater at URI and at Brown.
Performances through Dec. 8 are on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., with an additional performance Sunday, Nov. 17, at 7 p.m. Nov. 24 will be a “Discussion Sunday,” when theatergoers will be asked to join a discussion after the performance of the theatrical aspects of the production and its humanities themes. There is no performance on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28. Tickets are $30; for ages 21 and younger, $25.
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