by Amy Lee Pearsall · August 14, 2014
What sacrifices would you be willing to make to pursue your dream? Would you be willing to upend everything in your life to use your gift? We may possess some idea, but prepare to rethink your answers after seeing Artistic New Directions’ production of FELICITAS, written and performed by Libby Skala, currently showing at the Steve & Marie Sgouros Theatre as part of the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival.
FELICITAS tells the true-life story of Skala’s great aunt, Lizi. A bit of a pioneer, Lizi bucked convention in the 1930’s by becoming a single mother while pursuing her higher-calling career as an infant nurse. Skala examines Lizi’s relationship with her parents and sisters in Vienna, her calling off a relationship with the ski instructor/motorcycle mechanic who loves her, and her overwhelming desire to live a life of service. We are taken through her early education in healthcare, Lizi’s daring escape from Nazi-occupied Austria by way of Italy with her young son in tow, and the requisite stop at Ellis Island. Finally, there is a reunion with her extended family in New York, where she ultimately decides to establish a new life and career caring for her much beloved babies.
Lest one think this is a tale of hardship, the word FELICITAS means happiness, and in this production, it is a word well-employed. As directed by Janice L. Goldberg, Skala takes charge of the stage with a whimsical smile, fully engaged in sharing the life force of her aunt, and this bit of familial history with her audience. Skala delivers this charming monologue on stage alongside her husband, Steven May, who performs lilting original mandolin compositions as she re-enacts Lizi’s story. Stephen Stevo Arnoczy contributes to an otherwise spare set with his video design, effortlessly weaving together historical family photos, brief film clips, and various graphics to indicate time and place.
With FELICITAS, Skala has created a beautiful tribute to her family, and to her great-aunt Lizi in particular. The piece is apparently the third solo play rounding out a trilogy of well-received works Skala has created about her grandmother and her two great-aunts, all of whom fled Austria during World War II. I would be delighted to see these three works somehow brought together, either in repertory performance or a bound edition of plays. That said, FELICITAS works as a stand-alone piece, and is worth a look at this year’s FringeNYC.