Part tribute, part caricature, part memorial, Lilia! is the life-story of Broadway and film star, Lilia Skala, as told and acted by her real-life grand daughter, Libby Skala.
Lilia was born in Vienna in 1896 and became one of Austria’s leading stage actresses. After her husband was arrested during the Night of the Long Knives (Lilia herself wasn’t Jewish), she managed to bribe a guard to free him and they fled to America with their two sons. Within two years she was on Broadway – and I think even her grand daughter wonders how she did it.
The most engaging moments in this 75-minute show are those between Lilia and a younger Libby. Minutely observed gestures combined with Libby’s ear for comedy create moving and tender scenes which provide an intimate insight into the character of her famous grandmother. One fascinating scene recreates an acting tutorial that Lilia gave Libby: her advice to her grand daughter is “forget about acting, I suggest that you be a sculptor.”
Libby mimics her grandmother’s accent with precision (we get a recording of Lilia’s voice at the beginning of the show to compare) and the evening’s dramatic interest lies primarily in Libby’s rich rendering of Lilia’s firm, gravely voice, which quavers with intensity. But (Libby) Skala overdoes the shrugging, the head shaking and the lip twisting until her characterisation spills over into caricature.
The evening does occasionally drag but contains undeniably moving moments – not least the ending. In a final telephone conversation Lilia asks her grand daughter to “write a part for me”: Libby Skala has done the next best thing.