Exploring the Female Experience: Jean Lichty on Theater, Empowerment, La Femme Theatre Productions

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In the heart of New York City’s vibrant theater scene, La Femme Theatre Productions stands out as a beacon dedicated to exploring, celebrating, and championing the universal female experience. As the executive director and driving force behind La Femme, Jean Lichty is not only a passionate advocate for women’s narratives but also a versatile actor gracing the stage in the company’s current production of Tennessee Williams’ timeless masterpiece, “The Night of the Iguana.”

Lichty’s journey intertwines intimately with La Femme’s mission, rooted in her personal experiences, mentors, and a fervent commitment to amplifying diverse voices. In an exclusive interview, Lichty shares insights into La Femme’s founding, the significance of “The Night of the Iguana,” the importance of mentoring young women, and her vision for empowering female artists in the theatrical landscape.

The genesis of La Femme traces back to a moment of profound inspiration during Lichty’s time at Barnard College, where she was deeply moved by Judy Chicago’s art installation, “The Dinner Party.” Reflecting on that pivotal moment, Lichty recounts, “I was compelled to establish a theater company that explored, highlighted, and honored the female experience.”

Collaborating with mentors like Dr. Lori Rotskoff and Austin Pendleton, Lichty brought her vision to life, officially registering La Femme in 2013. The company’s mission aimed to explore women’s narratives through classic American texts, fostering an inclusive environment that delved into the complexities of the female identity.

The company’s commitment to storytelling is exemplified through productions that center around and celebrate the female experience. Lichty emphasizes, “Our theater company values the exploration and celebration of the universal female experience.” The productions, from “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur” to “The Traveling Lady,” delve into women’s stories, perspectives, and the diverse range of female characters.

What sets La Femme apart is its unwavering dedication to amplifying female voices and challenging conventional portrayals. The company aims not only to feature significant roles for women but also to examine the evolving meaning of female identity across different eras. 

The company is currently presenting Tennessee Williams’s “The Night of the Iguana,’ through teh end of February, the play resonated deeply with La Femme’s team due to its profound depth and enduring relevance. Lichty explains, “Our decision was significantly influenced by our board’s strong affinity for this play, recognizing its profound depth and enduring relevance.” The play’s exploration of redemption, emotional turmoil, and resilience amid world crisis aligns seamlessly with La Femme’s artistic vision.

Lichty, portraying the character of Hannah Jelkes, finds a personal resonance with the play’s themes. “Hannah’s fortitude echoes the unspoken empowerment and resilience inherent in my family lineage and in the mission of La Femme,” she shares. The character’s unwavering resilience embodies the values deeply entrenched in both Lichty’s personal history and La Femme’s commitment to highlighting the strength of women.

In the capable hands of director Emily Mann, “The Night of the Iguana” gains a depth that comes from Mann’s lifelong rapport with Tennessee Williams’ works. Lichty highlights Mann’s unparalleled insight into Williams’ world and her visionary approach to storytelling as the perfect match for La Femme’s dedication to showcasing the female experience.

The production boasts an exceptional cast, including Tim Daly, Daphne Rubin Vega, Lea DeLaria, Austin Pendleton, and Lichty herself. Each actor brings a unique perspective and depth to their roles, enhancing the overall production. Lichty emphasizes the collaborative and inspiring environment fostered by these talented artists.

Despite being set in 1940 against the backdrop of impending global turmoil, “The Night of the Iguana” resonates profoundly with contemporary audiences. Lichty sees the play’s exploration of human vulnerability, resilience, and the quest for personal salvation as particularly relevant today. The characters’ struggles mirror the universal human experience of navigating personal identity crises, coping with loss, and finding hope amidst chaos.

Lichty hopes the play prompts discussions about the human quest for deeper connections, resilience in the face of adversity, and the pursuit of meaning. She envisions the production as a catalyst for introspection and conversations about the shared experiences depicted on stage.

La Femme’s commitment to mentoring young women through professional internships is integral to its mission. Lichty underscores the significance of these opportunities in nurturing emerging talents and shaping a more inclusive theatrical landscape. She highlights the contributions of individuals like Janvi Sai and Emma Yehle, emphasizing the value they bring to the company’s endeavors.

For Lichty, these internships serve as a conduit for aspiring women to gain practical experience, mentorship, and exposure in the theatrical realm. La Femme’s dedication to uplifting young female artists reflects its vision of empowerment and inclusivity.

Looking ahead, La Femme Theatre Productions continues its dynamic growth within the theatrical landscape. With productions like Phanésia Pharel’s “BLACK GIRL JOY” on the horizon, the company remains committed to amplifying underrepresented narratives and nurturing emerging talents. Lichty envisions an expanded repertoire, collaborations with diverse voices, and initiatives like the WOMEN ON THE VERGE series, all aimed at empowering women in the arts.

As an executive director, Lichty offers advice to aspiring artists and advocates passionate about promoting the female experience in the arts. She emphasizes the importance of authenticity in one’s work and the impact of individual perspectives in shaping the artistic landscape. Lichty urges supporters of female narratives to celebrate diverse voices, amplify underrepresented stories, and create inclusive spaces that empower women across all backgrounds.

Lichty’s journey with La Femme embodies a profound commitment to storytelling, empowerment, and the celebration of women’s narratives. Her vision for La Femme resonates as a testament to the transformative power of theater and the enduring impact of amplifying diverse voices in the arts. Through her tireless dedication, Lichty continues to pave the way for a more inclusive, representative, and empowering theatrical future.

The production of “The Night of the Iguana” at La Femme Theatre Productions stands as a testament to the company’s commitment to showcasing the female experience in all its complexities. With a stellar cast, visionary direction, and a dedication to storytelling that transcends eras, La Femme invites audiences to explore the universal themes of resilience, connection, and redemption in a way that resonates deeply with the human spirit. As the curtain rises on this evocative production, audiences are poised not just to watch a play but to embark on a transformative journey through the intricate layers of the human experience, courtesy of La Femme Theatre Productions.

The cast is led by Tim Daly (Broadway: The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial. TV: “The Sopranos,” “Madam Secretary,” “Wings”) as Rev. Shannon, Tony Award – Winner Daphne Rubin-Vega (Broadway: Rent, Anna in the Tropics) as Maxine, Emmy winner and Drama Desk nominee Lea DeLaria (Netflix “Orange Is the New Black.” Broadway: POTUS) as Judith Fellowes, Tony nominee Austin Pendleton (Broadway: Between Riverside and Crazy, The Minutes) as Nonno, and Jean Lichty (Off-Broadway: La Femme’s A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur, The Traveling Lady) as Hannah with Carmen Berkeley (Off-Broadway’s Our Dear Dead Drug Lord) as Charlotte, Eliud Garcia Kauffman (Roundabout Theatre’s 72 Miles to Go) as Hank, Keith Randolph Smith (Broadway’s Jitney, American Psycho) as Jake, Bradley James Tejeda (Broadway’s The Inheritance) as Pedro, and Dan Teixeira (Off-Broadway: Harmony: A New Musical) as Pancho, rounding out the cast are Michael Leigh Cook (Regional: The Diary of Anne Frank) as Herr Fahrenkopf, Alena Acker (TV: “Diabolical”) as Frau Fahrenkopf and the understudies include Christopher Innvar (Broadway: To Kill a Mockingbird), Tuck Milligan (Broadway: Equus, CBS’ “Person of Interest”), Dee Pelletier (Broadway: August Osage County), Alexia Pores (Juilliard School), and Buzz Roddy (Regional: Jersey Boys).

The creative team includes Tony Award winners Beowulf Boritt (Scenic Design), Jennifer von Mayrhauser (Costume Design), Jeff Croiter (Lighting Design), and Darron L West (Sound Design), Kathy Fabian (Prop Design) with Amy Stoller (Dramaturg and Language Consultant), Stephanie Klapper Casting (Casting Director), Tinc Productions (Production Management), and LDK Productions / Lisa Dozier Shacket (General Management).

The Night of the Iguana runs through February 25, 2024. It will play Wednesday – Friday at 7:30 PM; Saturday at 2 PM and 8 PM; Sunday at 3 PM. The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center is located at 480 West 42nd Street, Tickets are $59 – $159 and can be purchased by visiting IguanaPlayNYC.com


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