BroadwayWorld Chicago Salutes Lookingglass Theatre Company Part Four

By: Jun. 09, 2011

Today in our week-long salute to the Lookingglass Theatre Company in honor of their 2011 Regional Theater Tony Award, we chat with Nora Fiffer.

After wowing Chicago audiences earlier this season with a star turn as Maggie ("the Marilyn Monroe" character) in the Eclipse Theatre production of Arthur Miller's "After the Fall," Fiffer makes her Lookingglass Theatre debut in "The Last Act of Lilka Kadison."

Five years in the making, the show was inspired by documentary work done by the late award-winning public radio producer Johanna Cooper and Cooper's relative Rosa Robota, who was executed after helping blow up a crematoria at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in 1944. 

Fiffer shares the stage with Marilyn Dodds Frank as the younger and older versions of Lilith Fisher, respectively.

We spoke briefly with the actress about the show, the Tony buzz at Lookingglass and more. Here's what she had to say:

What was the reaction at the theater when the Tony award was announced?

Nora Fiffer: It was an exciting day. Lookingglass was so incredibly inclusive to all of the cast and crew of this current production. They've invited us to a Tony Awards party on Sunday.  I'm not a member of the ensemble and yet they really went out of their way to make me and others a part of the celebration.

Any first-hand reactions from some of the ensemble memebers?

The whole ensemble was completely humble. They were so stunned. 

How has Lookingglass' ensemble approach to acting been for you as an actress?

It's been great. They really practice what they preach with regard to ensemble process and in terms of the dynamic of person to person interaction. Everyone is valued as a unique contributor to the production. 

In the show, you play the younger version of a woman in the twilight of her years. Are you basing the character on anyone in particular?

The character of Lillith was written as a composit of many women --survivors of the Holocaust and mothers, grandmothers and aunts of the writers.

For me personally, when I first read the play, I thought of my grandmother. She is a passionate and fiery inspiration to me. I think about her as I am playing the younger version. I see her as a huge source of strength and power. As I approach the younger version, it has been helpful to think of who my grandmother was when she was my age. Not only her experience as a youth, but the innocence and the wonder before one reaches that point of stability, adulthood and wisdom. I will never know exactly what she was like as a teen, but I try to imagine it. I'm trying to bring all that to the character. Then there is the other layer of having two actresses creating this person. 

Are you taking ques about the character from each other's performance of her?

We are. Marilyn Dodds Frank and I are fortunate to not have many scenes with each other, so we are able to watch each other and pick up on certain physical choices and vocal gestures that we then use to create this same individual. And it isn't as if one of us is driving all the choices. This truly has been a collaboration. We don't discuss the character with each other, but we observe and listen to each other's performance. It's been a unique approach to creating a character. One woman is pre-trauma and the other post-trauma. The audience sees how tragedy shapes a person.

If you could see your older self, what's one thing you'd hope she'd tell you?

I would probably need to hear from my older self to relax and enjoy my time. Time is very precious. Second, to be sure to listen to myself and not think about what I should or shouldn't do. Just listen to what your heart is telling you. That is what I imaging my older self telling me, anyway.

"The Last Act of Lilka Kadison" is currently in previews; opens June 11 and runs through July 24 at the Lookingglass Theatre at the Water Tower Works, 821 N. Michigan. Tickets, $20-$62. Call (312) 337-0665;

Tomorrow: Lookingglass Theatre Company's plans for Sunday's Tony Awards and a lookingglass towards their future.