Actress and playwright Libby Skala mines her rich family heritage for some incredible stories. Felicitas is the last solo play in a trilogy about her grandmother and her two great aunts and is part of 2014 FringeNYC.
Set in Vienna, against the backdrop of the end of World War I through World War II, the play introduces us to Felicitas “Lizi” Sofer, the youngest daughter of a Catholic mother and a Jewish father. The couple, as was typical of the times, has lost many children in childbirth; when this last child is born and lives, the father declares that some happiness is needed and the baby is named Felicitas, Latin for happiness. As she watches her older sisters develop their talents for acting and dancing, Lizi wonders what she will do when she grows up. She discovers early on that her calling is to care for children -- in particular babies -- and after attending nursing school becomes a professional baby nurse. With shining eyes and deep conviction, Lizi reveals to the audience the secrets for a happy baby: swaddle the baby nice and tight so they feel safe and can stand upright on your hand, adhere to a strict schedule, hold them and love them. As Lizi’s story unfolds, we witness her falling in love, having an illegitimate child, immigrating to escape the Nazi regime and starting over in New York. Always present in every hardship is her steadfast devotion to her calling -- caring for, nurturing and loving babies. Lizi does this into old age, including attending the home birth of her great niece, Ms. Skala.
Ms. Skala’s writing is lovely and life affirming; she tells her great aunt’s story with warmth, sincerity and a poignant truthfulness. As an actress, Ms. Skala’s performance is filled with nuance and humor. With simple gestures she creates memorable characters. Especially endearing is her rendering of the unorthodox Jewish father and his philosophy of putting one foot in front of the other to get where you want to go. The talented Ms. Skala is also doing double duty at the Fringe: in addition to performing Felicitas, she is part of the cast of No Provenance.
Lizi’s story is beautifully underscored by Steve May’s mandolin playing. Video Designer Stephen Stevo Arnoczy uses old family photos, historical pictures, video and charming illustrations projected onto a screen to add a rich visual texture to Ms. Skala’s storytelling. In a few places the pacing could be tighter, but overall Janice L. Goldberg directs with a sure hand.
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