Off-Broadway Review: BECOMES A WOMAN (Mint Theater Company at NY City Center)

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by Paulanne Simmons on February 27, 2023

in Theater-New York,Virtual


Betty Smith is best known for her 1946 bestselling novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. But her first love was theater. When she was a child growing up in Brooklyn, she would go to Sunday matinees, pay ten cents and stand in the gallery to watch the show. As an adult, she studied drama at Yale with the legendary George Pierce Baker, whose students included Eugene O’Neill, Philip Barry, Thomas Wolfe, and George Abbott. She spent decades working in the theater, with the Federal Theater Project.

Emma Pfitzer Price

So it should come as no surprise that Smith is the author of a full-length play, Becomes a Woman, which was never produced. That is until now. Happily, this season Mint Theater Company, whose mission is to rediscover lost but worthy plays, is presenting this intriguing and pioneering work, directed by Britt Berke.

Pearl Rhein and Emma Pfitzer Price

Many of the names in Becomes a Woman will be familiar to those who have read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Francie Nolan (Emma Pfitzer Price) is here, only now she’s 19 years old, living with father (Jeb Brown), mother (Antoinette LaVecchia), her two brothers, Frankie (Tim Webb) and Johnny (Jack Mastrianni), and working at a five and dime store.

Emma Pfitzer Price and Christopher Reed Brown

Francie is as innocent as she is naïve. But like many girls her age, she is eager for love and easy to seduce. So, when the boss’s son, Leonard Kress Jr. (Peterson Townsend), shows interest in her, she falls hard and ultimately, disastrously, into his arms.

Peterson Townsend and Emma Pfitzer Price

Francie’s mother and father are angry and ashamed. They have little enough in their lives, save their pride. And when Francie takes that away, they react viciously. Francie’s only friend is Tessie (Gina Daniels), who offers her comfort and a home.

Emma Pfitzer Price and Antoinette LaVecchia

So far, this may sound like a typical fallen woman tale. But what happens later, when Leonard Kress Sr. (Duane Boutté) enters the story, is totally unexpected, especially for a play written in the 1930s. Francie becomes a woman. Not just any woman, but a thoroughly modern, brave and independent woman.

Jeb Brown and Antoinette LaVecchia

Price makes Francie’s transformation entirely believable but still leaves us wondering until the very end exactly what she will do. Townsend also keeps us in suspense. Is he really reformed? Is he a complete scoundrel? And Boutte is splendid as the wealthy father who is much more perceptive than one would suppose.

Jeb Brown and Emma Pfitzer Price

Vicki R. Davis has created a realistic kitchen, with the cheap furniture and appliances we would expect in the cramped apartment of a family trying to make ends meet and preserve dignity. And Emilee McVey-Lee’s costumes reinforce the time and place, as well as the personality and position of the characters.

Duane Boutté and Emma Pfitzer Price

The script of Becoming a Woman contains many titles of songs Smith may have wanted included in the production. As these songs are not known today, dramaturg Amy Stoller was given the difficult task of finding suitable replacements. Her selections comprise a score that is both consistent with the time period and appropriate to the mood of the play. The production is seamless.

In fact, Becomes a Woman is such a great find it’s hard to understand how it ever got lost.

Gina Daniels and Emma Pfitzer Price

photos by Todd Cerveris

Becomes a Woman
Mint Theater Company
NY City Center Stage II (131 West 55th Street, between 6th & 7th Avenues)
ends on March 18, 2023
for tickets, call 212.581.1212 or visit NY City Center

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