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Paulanne Simmons

Street Theater Goes Virtual

"Liberty or Just Us: a City Parks Story"
Book and lyrics by Crystal Field, music by Joseph Vernon Banks
Presented by Theater for the New City
Weekends Aug. 1 through Sept. 13
The playing schedule is Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 PM. There is one evening performance, Friday, August 14 at 7:00 PM (changed from 6:30 
Link Address: https://theaterforthenewcity.net/wp-tnc/
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Aug. 8, 2020

Street Theater morphs into a virtual oratorio with "Liberty or Just Us: a City Parks Story."

For over four decades New York City summers have been blessed with Theater for the New City’s annual Street Theater tour, which visits all five boroughs and entertains while it raises social awareness. This year, street theater has become virtual theater as Crystal Field and her band of troubadours embrace technology to bring their latest creation into the homes and hearts of New Yorkers.

That means the show must do without much of the trappings that have made it so remarkable. There are no trap doors, puppets or movable flats. But there’s plenty of enthusiasm and conviction.

The 2020 show, "Liberty or Just Us: a City Park Story,” written and directed by Field and composed by Joseph Vernon Banks, is an oratorio honoring New York City parks as venues for activism throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. The performers contribute individually from their homes, making the presentation a kind of collage filled with color, music and voice.  Each performance pays tribute to the park, playground or neighborhood street it was originally scheduled for.

Michael David Gordon as the Parks Supervisor, who narrates.

For much of the time, Michael David Gordon is the narrator, although other actors often take over. Together they trace activism from its beginnings, with tragedies such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and its resulting union activities and pro-labor legislation, all the way to recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Thus, the show covers civil rights, workers’ rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and more.

T. Scott Lilly sings "Joe Hill"
Cheryl Gadsden as Billie Holiday
singing "Strange Fruit"

Although Banks and Field have written a number of new songs, the show also features traditional songs. In fact, T. Scott Lily’s heartfelt rendering of Alfred Hayes and Earl Robinson’s classic union ballad, “Joe Hill,” and Cheryl Gadsden’s channeling of Billie Holiday in Abel Meeropol’s protest of black lynchings, “Strange Fruit,” are highlights.

Despite the many outrages “Liberty or Just Us” chronicles, the show is consistently upbeat and ends on a note of optimism, maintaining that with every crisis, “each time we learn a little more” and “even our losses brought us onward.”

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