Lilia Skala was best known for her performance as the nun in 1963's Lilies of the Field, for which she won an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. But her acting career was vast, spanning Broadway, television, and Hollywood for over 50 years. Her career began in Austria, however, where she was one of the country's leading stage actresses, a star in Max Reinhardt's theatre, and Austria's first female architect. She was forced to flee when Hitler invaded, and landed in America with two small children and no knowledge of English. Less than two years later she was on Broadway.
Her indomitable spirit is extolled in her granddaughter's one-woman show, Lilia. Libby Skala wrote Lilia as a tribute to her grandmother, who was also her mentor and first acting coach. As one-woman shows go, this is among the simplest -- Libby as Lilia, talking about her life and acting career for 75 minutes or so. But Libby is Lilia; she captures Lilia's voice and mannerisms perfectly. The faint Austrian accent, the deep breathiness of an old woman's voice with just a hint of quaver and crackle, the inherent poise that comes from decades of stage acting. Libby's love and respect for her grandmother is apparent in every move she makes. She also makes apparent both her own and Lilia's passion for the theatre.
Libby really makes Lilia come alive, on the barest of black stages. She stays on her feet, for the most part, affording the viewer some visual action without fidgeting or restlessness (as befitting an actress playing a much older woman). Of course, it helps that Lilia had such an exciting life; it gives the piece a sense of movement it would not have had otherwise.
Many one-person shows have a tendency to drag, to become visually stagnant, or simply to become over-sentimentalized; this one remains interesting, and moving, without ever being sappy. Even for those who may never have heard of Lilia Skala, it is a fine portrait and an excellent play.
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Copyright 2003 Jenny Sandman