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Theater Review: 'The Last Act of Lilka Kadison' an enchanting parable

That rarefied place where craft, collaboration and content create theatrical poetry is everywhere in “The Last Act of Lilka Kadison” at the Falcon Theatre.

Indeed, this delicately potent West Coast premiere, a co-production between the Falcon and Chicago’s Tony-winning Lookingglass Theatre Company, often seems to be composing itself before our eyes in a blend of magic realism and transparent emotion.

Conceived as a collective act of remembrance, “Lilka” is inspired by the work of late NPR producer Johanna Cooper, including two radio series of classic Jewish stories. Its three-leveled narrative, written by co-producer Abbie Phillips and colleagues Nicola Behrman, David Kersnar, Heidi Stillman and Andrew White is as functional yet resonant as a working Yiddish puppet theater, or a windblown shower of pillow feathers.

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Accordingly, director Dan Bonnell, atop his game, maneuvers this study of aging North Hollywood fusspot Lilith Fisher (Mindy Sterling), her titular younger self (Brittany Uomoleale) in 1939 Poland and the Pakistani home healthcare nurse (Usman Ally) and Warsaw Ghetto ghost (Nicholas Cutro) who bring catharsis into arresting, acutely beautiful serio-comic areas.

Credit to the superb design team, starting with Melissa Ficociello’s ingenious set onward, with Ann Closs-Farley (costumes), Chris Wojcieszyn (lighting), Cricket S. Myers (sound) and Susan Simpson (toy theater design) interfacing disciplines in high yeoman manner.

The same goes for the cast, a perfectly balanced quartet of archetypal opposites.  Sterling’s petulant crank reaches transcendent quietude in her climactic monologue; Ally, who originated his role, meets her every snap with spot-on timing. Cutro’s puppet-theater artist, casual and urgent at once, enjoys real chemistry with Uomoleale, whose mercurial eloquence announces a major find.

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One could quibble with some inevitable story turns, but that would be churlish, given the deft invention and deep feeling this enchanting parable of memory, mothers and mortality displays. It would be more foolish still to miss it.

“The Last Act of Lilka Kadison,” Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank. 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 5; 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; 4 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 19. $29.50 - $57. (818) 955-8101 or www.falcontheatre.com. Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

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