Off-Broadway Review: ‘The Lady Liberty Theater Festival’ at Urban Stages

New York Theatre Guide Posted By: Jacquelyn Claire on: September 10, 2016

LLTF promo poster June 24

“The Lady Liberty Theater Festival,” presented by Aizzah Fatima and Monica Bauer, comprises three short punchy plays and a song in praise of freedom and against Islamophobia. As I arrived in the theater, the soundtrack was blasting out music with American themes. I got into the mood as Neil Diamond sang, “they’re coming to America.” As a recent immigrant to the shores of the Land of the Free, I felt the need to sing along, quietly.

. . .deeply satisfying. . .

The scene setter was a quirky comedy called “Lady Liberty’s Worst Day Ever,” written by Monica Bauer. Lady Liberty (Frances McGarry) has been summoned to her agent Vinnie’s office (J.Dolan Byrnes), and if she can stay off her cellphone for long enough, he will tell her the shocking news that Trump is about to rebrand her in his image and do away with the Emma Lazarus poem on her pedestal.

Cheryl King directs this comedic sketch, where she crafts a pithy little satirical stab at the “Orange” man who has literally forgotten where he comes from. Byrnes and McGarry charge around the stage with enough energy to set the Lady’s torch on fire. They have great stage chemistry together and seem to really enjoy their volleys of dialogue, served forcefully at each other.

Dolan Byrnes soulfully covered the scene change with a rendition of the Irish traditional folk song “No Irish Need Apply,” beautifully setting the context of bigotry and exclusion through the ages in Manhattan. We segued into the next movement, “No Irish Need Apply,” written by Monica Bauer and directed by Cheryl King. Joan Fitzgerald (Frances McGarry) is a shop owner looking to hire a new employee. Ahmed Famy (Ali Andre Ali), a Shi’ite Muslim, enters to apply for the position. He takes one look at the image of the “Bleeding” Christ on the wall and decides he would not be welcome.

What follows is a very clever job interview which exposes prejudices and cultural assumptions in a refreshing way. Ali is powerful as the defensive and stoic academic. He has a wonderful command and ease on stage, which makes him extremely watchable. McGarry was lovable and charming as the irreverent and open-minded Irish widow. It feels like this sort of situation is happening all over the city on a daily basis, but I am not sure that the outcomes are as congenial and generous as this pleasant oasis.

The final element of the theatrical Lady Liberty hat-trick was “Dirty Paki Lingerie,” brilliantly written and performed by Aizzah Fatima, with direction by Erica Gould. This was more of a standard one-woman show length, so it was deeply satisfying. The other performers had joyfully served up the appetizers and entrees so that we could sink our teeth into this delicious main course. Fatima and her transforming piece of green fabric weave a tale of various Pakistani women living in the U.S. who are torn between cultural expectation and their personal desires. She inhabits mothers, strong independent woman, children, teenagers, and traditional girls who show the diversity of experience of being a woman in their community and in the United States. The six Muslim-American women were drawn from real-life incidents and interviews, which lends a truthfulness to the production that is spellbinding.

Gould has ensured a piece that has flawless transitions between characters and situations, allowing Fatima to excel in birthing this wide range of distinctive female Pakistani dreamers. Fatima is an extraordinary performer with a vocal range that is impressive, and she is enormously funny. This piece will definitely have a long life ahead of it!

“The Lady Liberty Theater Festival” celebrates freedom of speech, the power of artists to defy oppression, and the ability to heal after traumatic life events. On the eve of the 15th Anniversary of 9/11, this festival is a perfect way to honor the past by submerging oneself in the shadow of Lady Liberty to remind ourselves of our glorious freedom.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with one 10-minute intermission.

Advisory: Adult language makes this production inappropriate for some audiences. Recommended for ages 16 and up.

“The Lady Liberty Theater Festival” plays through September 25, 2016 at Urban Stages in New York City. For more information on this festival, click here.

Testimonial #14: Marisa Vitali, Actor, Producer, Writer

Marisa’s film Miracle Year is in production and will be shooting this fall at Tim’s Shipwreck Diner, in her hometown of Northport, Long Island.

How has your life been indelibly touched by a teacher who utilized the arts for whatever reason and acknowledge how they were instrumental in breaking the mold to allow you to become who you are today?

A teacher that touched my life, was none other than Frances McGarry herself. At the time, Frances McGarry was my TheaterWorks drama teacher, where she had us breathe life into the Classics. By the time I got to TheaterWorks, I was already performing and starring in the school musicals. Studying with Frances was a GREAT reality check. There was no “Star.” Here it was a Troupe, so leave your “EGO” at the door Please, Thank You very much.

What I got from her was how to be a PROFESSIONAL. I learned how to collaborate with others to fulfill the artistic vision of a piece, how to ask for help and most of all to how to consistently show up and do “The Work.” She held us in extremely high standards and there was no room for err. She wasn’t gonna take sh*t from anyone, especially some pimply, hormonal, hot shit teenager. Looking back it was the first time I was treated as an adult, a colleague, a fellow collaborator. When everything else in life at that time was an emotional chaos, when the door closed and the bell rung for TheaterWorks to begin, it was the time to achieve the very BEST of you.

marisa vitali

Testimonial #10: Holly Stanford, Theater Education Practitioner

How has your life been indelibly touched by a teacher who utilized the arts for whatever reason and acknowledge how they were instrumental in breaking the mold to allow you to become who you are today?

I was greatly influenced by an English teacher in my high school. She took on the school drama club andinvested 100% of herself into the process, allowing herself to make discoveries along with us, and treating theatre as a mechanism for not only learning, but for us to discover confidence and self-worth.

Before I became involved in the arts, I was a shell of myself- introverted andlacking confidence emotionally and socially. This teacher witnessed my demeanorchange as I threw myself into the roles I played and encouraged me to stay withthe arts- that I “could be a pro”. Now, although I have not become afully-fledged professional in theatre, her vote of confidence in my abilitiesdrove me to study the art intensively in college and then in graduate schoolwhere I trained to teach students, and to encourage them the same way I had.

It only took one teacher’s use of the arts to change the entire trajectory ofmy life, and I am so glad she did. I have met so many more amazing teachers andprofessors of theatre since then, and have learned more from my involvement inthe arts than in any other school of thought.

How are the artsre-igniting your community and sparking innovation and creativity in your localschools?

When I came home on a summerbreak from graduate school in New York City I worked tirelessly to give high school studentsacross the region the same option that younger students had. It was unfortunatethat at 14 or 15, you aged out of the arts- I remember feeling so sad after myfinal year of the children’s theatre group. After developing a pilot programover a few months prior to summer 2011, and working alongside a localprevention agency known as Mountain View Prevention Service, Inc., we had aplan, the funding and a cast of students from seven area high schools.

Every part of this summer production was like magic- the students were excited,hard working and wonderful, and the great network of local organizations thatprovided both financial and moral support was heart-warming. I am so glad thatthere has been a growing appreciation for the arts in our community since thissummer. Students who lacked confidence in their own school productions wereable to shine for the first time. I recently revisited one of the participatingschools and many of the students who had participated in the summer programwere up on stage again! It’s amazing to witness their growing confidence andthe willingness of educators in the school to support the arts, and the desiresof students to be involved in theatre.

I do hope that the high school program pilot I worked to create will be offeredagain for future seasons. The program is wonderful for students, especiallyteenagers to have a positive and constructive activity to commit to whileschool is out of session. It is also my desire for area schools to consider thevalue of theatre alongside other art forms in their school budget- if moreschools could offer not only plays, but holistic theatre education for students;I feel that it could only further enhance the student experience both sociallyand academically. Theatre teaches valuable and realistic lessons incommunication, dealing with various types of personalities, working on abudget, how to lead and follow in group situations, learning how to deal withthe hand you were dealt, and good old fashioned hard work and how it willeventually lead to something great.

With an ever changing society, isn’t it important for us to instill these veryimportant lessons into our youth? Theatre is so much more than anextra-curricular activity. I would not be the same without it, and the teens inour community are begging for the chance to be a part of something so muchgreater than test scores and the occasional school play.

Arts education program boosts reading scores

SAN MARCOS: Arts education program boosts reading scores
.ByDEBORAH SULLIVAN BRENNAN dbrennan@nctimes.com | Posted: Thursday, February 9,2012 7:00 pm.

Thousands of North Countyschoolchildren showed an “astonishing” jump in test scores after their teachers used the arts in reading lessons, officials announced Thursday. In a pilot programinvolving 3,000 third- and fourth-graders, test scores improved at triple therate of similar students using the standard curricula. Those in the”DREAM” program learned reading through lessons involving theater,puppetry and painting —- and improved their reading scores by 87 points,education officials announced at a news conference.  “Art has thepower to inspire, inform, and obviously the results of DREAM show that art hasthe power to educate,” Cal State San Marcos President Karen Haynes said.
DREAM —- DevelopingReading Education through Arts Methods —- is a four-year program of the SanDiego County Office of Education, the North County Professional DevelopmentFederation and the Center ARTES of Cal State San Marcos.  Through the program,teachers participated in a weeklong arts integration training sessions and wereassigned to one of three groups. A control group did not employ arts in readinglessons. A second group added the arts lessons, while a third group did so within-class coaching by arts educators.
Kids in the controlgroup raised reading scores by 25 points, officials said. Those whose teacherstaught arts integration on their own brought up test scores by 42 points. Andthe group in which teachers received coaching increased reading scores by 87points.
Merryl Goldberg,chairwoman of the visual and performing arts department at the university, saidthe results show that arts education contributes to attainment of academicstandards, rather than distracting from them.
“We use arts insuch a way that it’s a tool,” she said. “It doesn’t take away fromthe curriculum at all. The arts teach creative thinking, innovative thinking,critical thinking. These are skills that are fundamental to what we need forthe 21 st century.”
Integrating movement,music and visual arts into reading lessons allows kids to employ more sensesand improve their comprehension of literature, said Laurie Stowell, a professorof literacy education at the university.  “Arts are simplyanother way we make sense of the world, and how we make meaning,” shesaid. “That’s what reading and writing is.” At the newsconference, fourth-graders from the Vista Academy of Visual and Performing Artsswayed to jazz music while displaying hand-lettered poster boards emblazonedwith single words.  Smooth,beautiful, peaceful, love,” proclaimed the signs for a smooth jazzselection.
“Explosive,blast, dynamite, grenade,” announced signs for a rhythm and blues piece.
Their teacher, HectorDeleon, said the multimedia lesson reinforced the meaning of vocabulary words,and improved reading comprehension.  “Instead ofhaving kids memorize stuff and spit it out, we’re having them take ownership ofthe word, and experiencing the words with music and movement,” he said.  His student, ArianaCastillo, 9, said the lessons erase her self-doubts about learning.  “It just makesme forget about all the voices in my head that say ‘You’re not good foranything,'” she said. “I just believe in myself.”
How have arts inclusion programs been utilized in your school district  to improve students’ in reading? other subject areas?

You Gotta Have HeART!


Photo credit Sherrie Nickol Citizen People
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Thank you to all those whose hearts are for The Arts!
Send Fran a Valentine. We know there’s a drama, art, music, dance, classroom teacher who changed your life. Within EACH and EVERY human being lies an artistic soul waiting to be sparked: it makes no difference where you’re from or what your economic status.
The Arts Rejuvenate, The Arts Restore. The Arts are our supernatural gift.
It is the force that unites us as a single, breathing, living entity that connects every human being to be all that is good and pure.
Send me your valentine testimonial.  How your third grade teacher taught you to write your first play, finger paint your fears away on an oily white sheet of paper, dance to the beat of your own drum, strum, blow, sing the lyrics that express your point of view.  Move an audience so deeply that they all get goose bumps!(Search for Signs of Intelligent Life)