Tovah Feldshuh creates tender portrait of her mom in ‘Lilyville’
By ALAN SMASON
Tovah Feldshuh has been one of the leading ladies of the legitimate stage as well as a veritable fixture on the big and small screen for more than four decades. With the publication of “Lilyville,” a biography and memoir centered on her relationship with her mother, she has assumed a new role, that of an author.
The woman who created the first iteration of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in “Golda’s Balcony,” Feldshuh knows what it feels like to be the mother of an entire nation. As the actress who played the title role in the stage performance of “Yentl,” she also had experience in playing a respectful, dutiful daughter who had to find her own way in life.
In more recent years, Feldshuh has also portrayed iconic and strong-willed women onstage like Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and hotel magnate Leona Helmsley or as Deanna Monroe in “The Walking Dead” series. In each portrayal, Feldshuh will admit, there is also bit of her mother that rises to the surface.
Throughout “Lilyville,” she points to the inspiration, guidance and witticisms of her mother, Lilian Kaplan Feldshuh, known affectionately as Lily. Lily proved to be of paramount importance to Tovah in the choices she made throughout her career and that in her personal life.
Lilyville is that place where her indominatable, yet refined Jewish mother still resides in memory and where her words and actions are still very much alive. The elder Feldshuh, who departed this world in 2014 at the age of 103, imparted much wisdom to her daughter, which she has, in turn, passed on to her own children and which the actress shares with her readers.
Feldshuh reveals her mother was always not pleased with many of the decisions she made in life, including that of her career choice and wouldn’t hold back. She was sometimes cold toward her offspring.
“You want to be an actress?” she recalls her mother saying to her. “Terri Sue, why don’t you just go into the kitchen, get my challah knife, stick it into my heart and twist it.”
While there is no doubt, Lily’s determination prepared her daughter with the kinds of resolve she would need with an acting career. But time has allowed Feldshuh to process what her mother, father, brother, husband and children would ultimately bring to her values and to her sensibilities as a child, sibling, wife and mother.
The book is also peppered with memories of Feldshuh’s career both on Broadway and Off Broadway, in film and on television. She details how she moved from an indylic childhood in suburban Scarsdale to residing in the heart of tony Manhattan.
The book utilizes an unusual device. It is constructed much like a play with pre-performance announcements, an overture, a first, second and third act with intermissions and post-performance bows and even a cast party.
The funny and at times sad commentaries reflect on the changing times from her youth in the 1950s and Feldshuh’s dogged determination to make her mom’s lot in life a happy one in the decade past the millennium.
A medical miracle who survived an experimental cardiac treatment, Lily always seemed to be able to rise above the vicissitudes of life and usually had a comment to make about everything. It’s true that even when challenged by a loss of hearing, Lily Feldshuh managed to steal the scene from her accomplished actor daughter. And, as we intimate from her elegant language, her daughter never seemed to mind…at least not in retrospect.
Throughout “Lilyville,” there is a constant, yet unspoken love woven throughout the scenes between mother and daughter. Whether they be hopelessly lost in a rental car in Spain or attending a dinner in Lily’s honor, the Feldshuh women share a common spirit. More times than not, the clash is comical.
While it is true, Lily may not have fully understood her daughter’s choices and more often felt compelled to comment upon them, there was, nevertheless, a genuine respect from Tovah and an acknowledged admiration for the preparation her mother had given her in life. The last few years the two were never closer. The times Tovah spent in Lilyville were often funny, sometimes sad, but alway memorable.
“Lilyville” by Tovah Feldshuh is published through Hatchette Books. 320 pp. It is available in hard cover $29 or a a digital eBook for $19. For more information, go to www.hatchettebooks.com.