In The Last Act of Lilka Kadison, written by Nicola Behrman, David Kersnar, Abbie Phillips, Heidi Stillman and Andrew White, and directed by David Kersnar (now running at Lookingglass Theatre), Holocaust survivor Lilith Fisher (Marilyn Dodds Frank), who changed her name from Lilka Kadison, is haunted by her past -- or more accurately ghosts from her past, those of her then-boyfriend Ben Ari Adler (Chance Bone) and her younger self (Nora Fiffer). Now elderly, relatively isolated, and homebound due to her ill health, Lilith spends much of the day arguing with Menelik Khan (Usman Ally), the home healthcare assistant that has been sent to her, or remembering her life before and during the Nazi occupation. Even as these flashbacks play out, it is clear that she would just as soon have her past, these ghosts, leave her alone. It is through alternating between these flashbacks or glimpses into her past life and her present life that we find out who she is, what she was like (and what her life was like) back then, and what happened to her during the war.
We learn, for example, that she was the eldest in a large, religious family. We also learn that she liked to read and learn, and so she frequently snuck off to the library (which, it is suggested, would not have been met with the approval of her family). She also had a talent for writing... a talent discovered Ben Ari Adler, who asks her to co-author a play with him for a theatre group he’s with, which just so happens to be the best known theatre group around.
We largely find out about her present life through her interactions with Menelik. While at first hesitant to open up to him (and therefore, in a way, to the audience) she does, little by little, reveal certain aspects of her life. She was married for many years, but her husband has died. She has a son, but he lives far away (up in Maine), their relationship is a complicated, strained one, and they don’t see each other often. It’s a trick just to get him on the phone, let alone to get him to come over.
But perhaps even more surprising is that we learn a lot about Menelik as well. As Lilith's trust of Menelik grows, and Menelik learns more about her and her experiences, they really open up to each other. She goes from finding him an annoyance that she could do without to trusting him, taking an interest in him, and revealing secrets to him that she’s not told anyone, not even her own husband or son (which perhaps explains her complicated, strained relationship with him), for fear that it would change the way she is viewed. We also learn about him, that there is more to him than meets the eye, as they say. He came to America from Pakistan hoping to pursue his passion, music. When he couldn’t pay the bills that way, he changed careers, becoming a home healthcare assistant, putting his dream on hold indefinitely. He is cut off from his own family. He says that his own mother cannot even come to visit, since getting a visa (even for visitors) from Pakistan is just not possible.
All in all, The Last Act of Lilka Kadison, is a wonderfully written, terrifically acted play that deals with an arguably serious subject, issues of aging Holocaust survivors, in a very sensitive way. Though it is the story of one woman’s life, it could be, in a way, the story of many a Holocaust survivor who, having survived this horrific period, were eager to pick up the pieces as best they could. Eager to make a life for themselves, while simultaneously struggling with what happened to them and their loved ones. This play, which is at Lookingglass Theatre for a limited time only, is a show that you won’t want to miss.
The Last Act of Lilka Kadison is currently running at Lookingglass Theatre through July 24, 2011. Curtain times are: Wednesdays - Fridays at 7:30 PM, Saturdays and Sundays at 3:00 and 7:30 PM. For the latest performance dates and times, more information regarding this production, information regarding Community Partner Special Events, or to purchase tickets, please log onto the Lookingglass Theatre website, www.lookingglasstheatre.org. Tickets can also be purchased by phone. Call the Box Office at 312-337-0665. Lookingglass Theatre is located at the Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
Production Photos: Sean Williams