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Play and replay

Master stagecraft and expert performances create an affecting narrative of memory and loss at the Falcon Theatre.

April 04, 2014|By Lynne Heffley
  • Mindy Sterling and Usman Ally star in the West Coast Premiere of "The Last Act of Lilka Kadison," directed by Dan Bonnell and now playing at the Falcon Theatre in Burbank.
Mindy Sterling and Usman Ally star in the West Coast Premiere… (Photo by Michael…)

“Everyone dies with secrets, why can’t I?” Convalescing at home after a fall, Lilith Fischer, age 87, is snappish with her son on the phone, rude to her in-home aide and determined to keep the memories of her youth buried.

A ghost from her past, however, has other ideas.

Imaginative in the telling and deeply felt, “The Last Act of Lilka Kadison,” a West Coast premiere presented by the Falcon Theatre in association with Chicago’s Tony Award-winning Lookingglass Theatre Company, is a quiet celebration of the life-affirming power of creativity and human connection.

At age 17, Lilith, nee Lilka Kadison (Mindy Sterling), escaped from the Nazi invasion of Poland that took her entire family. Now, 70 years later, after marriage and a secure life in California, widowed Lilith finds her long-denied past demanding to be acknowledged, a past made manifest in her living room by the haunting presence of her first love, Ben Ari Adler (Nicholas Cutro) and her own young self (Brittany Uomoleale).

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Determined to ignore Ben Ari’s direct appeals for recognition, Lilith rails against the reality of her life: a broken hip, her Pakistan-born caretaker Menelik (Usman Ally), her out-of-state son’s absence and her approaching mortality. But she can’t help but see and hear the replay of her past — conceived and executed with outstanding finesse — that begins when handsome Ben Ari meets Lilka in 1939 Warsaw and charms her with his toy theater presentation of a Jewish folk tale about a wise fool and feathers in the wind.

While Ben Ari periodically breaks away to see if elderly Lilith will respond, secret poet and scholar Lilka is drawn by his playful wit. (Uomoleale’s unforced notes of sweet-faced vulnerability and eager intelligence speak to the maturity of her performance — she is a talent to watch.) Lilka helps Ben Ari write his next puppet play, a retelling of the biblical story of Solomon and Sheba, and the two fall in love. What happens then in the chaos of the occupation jolts Lilith out of her passive denial — and toward the play’s moving conclusion.

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