BWW Reviews: Lookingglass' LILKA KADISON Is a Real Charmer at the Falcon
The Last Act of Lilka Kadison/by Nicola Behrman, David Kersnar, Abbie Phillips, Heidi Stillman, Andrew White/directed by Dan Bonnell/Falcon Theatre, produced in association with the Lookingglass Theatre Company*/through April 19
As I watched the enchanting The Last Act of Lilka Kadison, I couldn't help but notice that the original Broadway cast recording of Man of La Mancha stood in front of Lilith's record collection. Was it somehow symbolic? Me and my imagination! Well, in Man of La Mancha a dungeon jail is transformed into a stage wherein Miguel de Cervantes and his fellow inmates act out a play. InThe Last Act of Lilka Kadison, the living area of 87 year-old Lilith's North Hollywood home is transformed into 1939 Poland just as Nazis were preparing to march in and take over. Lilka or Lilith (Mindy Sterling) is seeing ghosts from her past, as they transport her back 70 years in time to a different place. She sees herself at 17 (Brittany Uomoleale), as she meets the love of her life Ben Adler (Nicholas Cutro), a member of the Warsaw Arts Collective who wants her to be his writing partner for a theatrical adaptation of Solomon and Sheba. A theatrical play within a play within a play is present in Lilka Kadison, as it is in Man of La Mancha. Just a thought among many that I've carried home with me from this charming play, now onstage at the Falcon Theatre through April 19 only!
Lilith Fisher (Sterling) has broken her hip and is being attended to by an Ethiopian caregiver named Menelik Khan (Usman Ally). In bold and independent Jewish style, like Daisy Werthan in Driving Miss Daisy, she mispronounces his name, berates him and does everything in her power to get him to walk out. But he stays. Both Lilith and Menelik have secrets, deep secrets that govern their ultimate happiness. As he tries to clean up the physical clutter around her, she has to deal with the ghost of Ben Adler, whom she claims she does not wish to remember. Menelik has a mother in Pakistan whom he cannot see, as she is not allowed in the US. So, in a sense, Lilith, despite her feisty, irascible manner, is a substitute for his mother, and he is like her son, who lives estranged in Maine.
I will not divulge more of the plot, as I do not wish to spoil your enjoyment of this piece. The scenarios between Ben and Lilka - Lilith's past - are played out with magic and toy theatre, wherein Adler tells an entertaining fable with paper puppets on a makeshift stage. It's sheer delight!
The actors are sublime. Cutro is assured and winning as Adler. His energy, passion and physical dexterity are astounding. Uomoleale brings innocence and fragility to the young Lilka, in contrast to the stubborn older Lilith, played beautifully to the hilt by Sterling. It is Ally as Menelik who has the most mysterious character. Straightforward in his job, masking his true feelings... it takes the wise Lilka to see through his veneer and to understand him fully. Ally's portrayal is masterful. Dan Bonnell maintains fine pacing as director and his staging is impeccable. Melissa Ficociello's set and prop designs are just terrific and Ann Closs-Farley's costume design, as it spans 70 years, is spot.on perfect.
Go see The Last Act of Lilka Kadison and, as Bonnell's program note suggests - quoting Roald Dahl, "watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places". The play will help you to believe in magic...or restore your faith!
*The Lookingglass Theatre Company of Chicago is the recipient of the 2011 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theater. The Last Act of Lilka Kadison received its world premiere there in 2011. Founded in 1988, the company is home to a multi-disciplined collective of artists who create original, story-centered theatre through a physical and improvisational rehearsal process centered on ensemble.