Highly Recommended Off-Broadway: BECOMES A WOMAN (Streaming Free from Mint Theater Feb 19-March17, 2024)

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by Tony Frankel on February 9, 2024

in Theater-New York,Virtual

Mint Theater Company will continue its hybrid programming of live performances along with the FREE on-demand streaming of acclaimed previous productions. Beginning Monday February 19, 2024 (from 7pm) through March 17 only, Mint will be streaming the three-camera archival recording (filmed in HD) of last year’s World Premiere of one of its most exciting discoveries ever: Becomes a Woman, an unpublished and never produced play by Betty Smith (author of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), Smith’s 1930 never-before-seen drama. Available at Mint’s virtual theater.

Mint made its first video in 2008: the premiere of The Fifth Column by Ernest Hemingway as it was originally written. Union rules forbade sharing the recording with a general audience, but the cast was put on a special contract that allowed the video to be used for academic purposes.

In 2013, Mint committed to recording all its productions, investing in creating professionally shot and edited full length archival videos. These videos are shot during live performances with three high-definition cameras,  and edited to create a broadcast quality, intimate and enjoyable experience of Mint programming. “After all, each of our productions runs the risk of being the only time the play will ever be done. I believed that one day the recordings might be shared with the public and I established the Preservation Fund to pay for taping, and eventually salaries for the artists,” said Jonathan Bank, Mint’s Producing Artistic Director.

When the pandemic hit the theaters in 2020, Mint finally had the opportunity to discover if there was a national audience for its discoveries. Unions representing the performers, directors and designers were eager to cooperate and PPP loans helped to pay those salaries.

And you get it for free on demand. Don’t miss it!

Stage and Cinema‘s Paulanne Simmons was so excited about the production that we have reprinted her review below.

WOMAN BECOMES A HIT

by PAULANNE SIMMONS on FEBRUARY 27, 2023

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
filmed March, 2023
streams Monday February 19, 2024 (from 7pm) through March 17, 2024
to watch, visit Mint Theater

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