By Nicola Behrman, David Kersnar,
Hedi Stillman and Andrew White
Directed by David kersnar
At Lookingglass Theatre, Chicago
Moving Holocaust love story depicts a spirited woman in her life defining moment
Inspired by the life and stories of Johanna Cooper and her MPR radio series One People, Many Stories – the original story and world premiere of The Last Act of Lilka Kadison, now playing at Lookingglass Theatre, is a beautiful story of how a young girl in Poland discovers womanhood during the Nazi invasion opening World War II on September 1, 1939.
Told as a memory play from the 87 year old Lilith Fisher (then know as Lilka Kadison), we meet the tough-as-nails old lady living in a cluttered California apartment. Marilyn Dodds Frank gives a funny, yet poignant performance as the ghost haunted sickly Lilith. Her caregiver, Menelik Kahn, Pakistani immigrant (played with humorous aplomb by Usman Ally) tries to get Lilith to both take her meds and let him clear up her house from all the clutter. Lilith is feisty as she drifts into remembrances brought on by the ghost of her first love- Ben Ari Adler (the charmingly charismatic Chance Bone).
The fast paced show moves tightly from the present back to Poland and back again revealing a secret Lilith has kept for 70 years. Since her health is rapidly deteriorating, Menelik tries to get her to meet with her son before she departs. We see the story weaving deftly in time as we see how she went from conservative Jewish religious patron in Poland to a vibrant woman through her contact with the agnostic Jewish traveling toy theatre promoter Ben Ari Adler. Jacqueline and Richard Penrod’s set aptly depicts Lilith’s home and it contains a moveable toy theatre set (by Tracy Otwell) where Adler gets Lilka (Nora Fiffer) to help him write a new version of the story of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Through this encounter, sparks fly between Ben Ari and Lilka as the Nazi’s invade Poland.
Lilka flees Poland and lives a comfortable life in the USA but is always having haunting memories fueled by visits from the ghost of Ben Ari Adler who motivates Lilith to reveal her secret before she departs the world. This is an enduring love story that depicts the thousands of unrecorded love stories that were tragically affected by the Holocaust. I was saddened by demise of Ben Ari – a true mensch – who kept his toy theatre productions going during the Warsaw Uprising.
This is an emotional, quick paced and wonderfully acted play. Chance Bone and Marilyn Dodds Frank were particularly terrific. This is a marvelously crafted work that visualizes the triumphant and strength of the human spirit. It is one of the finest shows of 2011. Kudos to Lookingglass Theatre as they continue to earn their 2011 Regional Tony Award. Don’t miss this terrific show.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: June 11, 2011
At Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL, call 312-337-0665, www.lookingglasstheatre.org, tickets $34 – $62, Wednesday thru Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays & Sundays at 3 & 7:30 pm, running time is 85 minutes without intermission, through August 7, 2011