The ghosts of the past return to haunt an 87-year-old Jewish widow—and to make magic in more ways than one—as the Falcon Theatre treats L.A. audiences to the West Coast Premiere of The Last Act Of Lilka Kadison, yet another gem from one of L.A.’s finest Equity houses.
Lilith Fisher (Mindy Sterling of Austin Powers fame) would appear at first glance to be your standard octogenarian curmudgeon, living room chair-bound since a fall left her with a bruised hip and not the slightest desire to spend even a single second with the Pakistani caregiver charged with aiding in her recovery.
It’s not just 30something Menelik Khan (Usman Ally) who’s set up shop in Lilith’s cluttered L.A. apartment, however. Also keeping the aged widow company since her accident is the long deceased Ben Ari Adler (Nicholas Cutro), either the side-effect of the Vicodin she has been prescribed, or an honest-to-goodness Ghost Of Rosh Hashanahs Past, in either case the handsome young puppet theater magician with whom Warsaw teenager “Lilka” (Brittany Uomoleale) shared a whirlwind romance in the days just preceding Hitler’s blitzkrieg invasion of Poland.
Produced by the Falcon in association with Chicago’s Tony Award-winning Lookingglass Theatre Company, home of its 2011 World Premiere, The Last Act Of Lilka Kadison is that rare instance in which many cooks—or playwrights—do not spoil the broth. Quite the contrary, the combined writing talents of Nicola Behrman, David Kersnar, Burbank native Abbie Phillips, Heidi Stillman, and Andrew White make for as memorable an eighty minutes of dramedy as any theatergoer could possibly desire.
Or as magical, both figuratively and in the dozens of moments in which Cutro’s Ben Ari, magic supervisor Christopher Hart, toy theater designer Susan Simpson, and set & prop designer Melissa Ficociello will have you oohing and aahing as you’ve rarely oohed and aahed before. And since the less you know beforehand, the more astonished you will be, I will refrain from spoiling any of The Last Act Of Lilka Kadison’s multitude of surprises, much as I would love to give at least a few of them away.
Still, though it may be the magic that leaves you breathless, it is the hearts and souls of Lilka, Ben Ari, Lilith, and Menelik that make for The Last Act Of Lilka Kadison’s pitch-perfect blend of laughter and tears, a heady mix that will stay with you long after you have exited the theater.
It’s hard to imagine four more richly developed characters or four more fully realized performances than those now on the Falcon stage under the inspired direction of Dan Bonnell. In particular, young love has rarely been as captivating—or as heartrending—as the brief but unforgettable moments brought to life by two young actors you’ll be hearing a lot more from in the months and years to come.
The enchanting Uomoleale makes a news-and-noteworthy West Coast debut as Lil’s younger self, and Scenie winner Cutro is equally irresistible as the man who manages to pierce a good Jewish girl’s defenses as the two collaborate on creating a puppet theater version of the Biblical tale of Solomon and Sheba. Not only that, the charismatic Cutro proves himself a prestidigitator extraordinaire under Hart’s tutelage.
As for Lilka’s older self, Sterling may have rocketed to international fame as Frau Farbissina in Austin Powers I, II, and III (and won a Best Lead Actress Scenie for the multitude of comic characters she brought to side-splitting life in A Tuna Christmas seven Decembers back), but it is as acerbic, irascible, heartbreaking Lilith that the stage-and-screen vet reveals herself to be a dramatic actress par excellence, digging deep into a lifetime of suppressed memories of love and loss—and more than half-a-century of secrets hidden from a son with whom maternal contact has become infrequent and superficial at best.
Sharing most of Sterling’s scenes with her is the equally superb Ally, who not only starred in the original Chicago production, the role of Melenik was written for him, more than enough reason for the Windy City-ite to have been invited to join this otherwise entirely L.A.-based production. Ally’s portrait of a contemporary Muslim immigrant separated from his beloved mother in a post-9/11 America that refuses to allow even a man’s closest kin to join him is as powerful as performances get, and his sparring matches with Sterling an absolute delight.
Ficociello’s set and properties, already at first glance the work of a gifted designer who has filled Lilith’s San Fernando Valley home with decades of accumulated memorabilia, end up revealing more wonders than you may ever have seen in an intimate stage production. Combined with Chris Wojceiszyn’s stunningly atmospheric lighting, Cricket S. Myers’ impeccably detailed sound design, and Ann Closs-Farley’s character-perfect costumes, The Last Act Of Lilka Kadison gives audiences one of the year’s finest production designs, and quite possibly the best I’ve ever seen at the Falcon.
Sandi Logan is casting director. Ellyn Costello is stage manager. Additional production staff include technical director Mike Jespersen, magic consultants David Regal and Brett Schneider, choreographer Jennifer Hamilton, and prop assistant Sarah Steinman.
Tracey Adams, Andrew Carter, Mueen Jahan, and Erin McIntosh are understudies.
Productions like The Grönholm Method, Billy & Ray, and February’s Bunny Bunny have made it abundantly clear over the past several years that L.A. theater doesn’t get much better than it can get at Garry Marshall’s Falcon. The same can be said for The Last Act Of Lilka Kadison, and then some.
Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank.
April 2, 2014
Photos: Michael Lamont