Emma Pfitzer Price in Becomes A Woman by Betty Smith. Photo Credit Todd Cerveris
In the circle of the arts, hearing the name Betty Smith usually brings the book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to mind. This classic novel captures the life story of Francie Nolan’s coming of age as a woman in working class Brooklyn in the early 1900’s. However, Smith had another part of her writing life that is seldom mentioned. That part is her keen interest in play writing and the theater.
The Mint Theater Company provides a World Premiere of one of their most exciting discoveries ever which is this unpublished and unproduced play by Betty Smith. Smith’s 1930 never-before-seen drama, Becomes a Woman, runs at NYC City Center through March 18th only. Perhaps by coincidence or design, the main character of this play is also named Francie Nolan. Although there could be some comparisons made between the two characters, this one displays a strong desire for social climbing as she is embarrassed with her family and her working class situation.
This need for Francie to climb socially sets the entire action of the play in motion. And with, comes a group of characters who either help her or hurt her in the quest. However, the quest ends when Francie realizes she has obligations that are important to her. Her final decisions end the play on a rather high note in terms of character development.
The Story Focuses on Characters in Becomes a Woman
The play is divided into three acts. Each act features new characters in addition to Francie Nolan (Emma Pfitzer Price).
The set for the first act shows the Kress Department store where Francie is employed. High marks go to Vicki Davis for her set design which includes a variety of color on the selected items. The part of the set where the sheet music is displayed is especially enjoyable to see.
Becomes a Woman is the story of Francie, a 19-year-old living with her family in Brooklyn and working at a five and dime store as a singer at the sheet music counter. Her co-workers describe her as “afraid of her family, afraid of the boss, afraid to make a date.” Co-worker Florry (Pearl Rhien) plays the piano as Francie sings. The music is enjoyable to hear and adds a delightful touch to the show. Credit goes to Emma Weiss, Music Director.
Pearl Rhein and Emma Pfitzer Price in Becomes A Woman by Betty Smith. Photo Credit Todd Cerveris
Florrie talks to Francie about the need to find a man and she has a number of opportunities which she turns down. That is until Leonard Kress Jr. (Peterson Townsend) appears. As the son of the owner of the store, Lenny brings with him the status that Francie desires especially as he gives her a salary raise. She accepts a date with him.
Peterson Townsend and Emma Pfitzer Price in Becomes A Woman by Betty Smith. Photo Credit Todd Cerveris
Credit to the writer, Betty Smith, for her initial depictions of these characters. They hold many changes in store but they don’t show here.
The set for this act is the Nolan home in the kitchen. The family is preparing for a visit from Leonard Kress Jr. to meet Francie’s father, Pa Nolan (Jeb Brown), Ma Nolan (Antonette LaVecchia) and brothers Frankie (Tim Webb) and Johnny (Jack Mastrianni). Francie is tense, concerned that the working class kitchen is not good enough for Leonard. She worries if he sees how they live, he will not like her.
Jeb Brown and Antoinette LaVecchia in Becomes A Woman by Betty Smith. Photo Credit Todd Cerveris
Some of the most impressive dialogue of the play is in this act. Lines dissecting the education of the brothers and Francie show the low value education has in the household that Francie has exaggerated to Leonard. Pa Nolan is a police officer for New York City and he provides some colorful conversation which is also embarrassing to Francie.
But the big news is when Francie tells the family that Lenny is going to marry her very soon. He looks distressed as she tells the news and especially when the family learns she is pregnant. Lenny did not expect all of this news to be announced. Her parents are furious and they throw her out of the house. The lack of conviction of his character appears.
One person comes forward to help Francie and that is Tessie (Gina Daniels).
Gina Daniels and Emma Pfitzer Price in Becomes A Woman by Betty Smith. Photo Credit Todd Cerveris
Without a doubt, Tessie is one of the most genuine and admirable characters in the play. She had also been pregnant and not married at one time. However, she lost her baby. She also works at the Kress Department Store with Francie and Florry so she understands the situations going on. Tessie helps Francie move forward.
The final act also takes place in the Nolan kitchen, however, the family has moved out leaving Francie and Tessie there on their own. Francie and Leonard are not together as the baby is born. Arriving one day to try to settle the problems comes Leonard Kress Sr. (Duane Boutte).
Duane Boutte and Emma Pfitzer Price in Becomes A Woman by Betty Smith. Photo Credit Todd Cerveris
The scene with Leonard Kress Sr. and Francie is one of the most interesting in the show. Mr. Kress has respectability on his mind. The changes in Francie display as she realizes what she must do for her child.
The ending to the story needs to be seen as some will find it unexpected and others will say they saw it coming all along. It depends upon your viewpoint.
No matter what, seeing Becomes a Woman is a good production; one that will remind you of how enjoyable going to see a play can be. The Mint Theater Company’s staging of the play deserves recognition for bringing a woman’s work back to the public eye. The venue provides an intimate atmosphere allowing the audience to feel a part of the action taking place.
Tickets for Becomes a Woman
Tickets are on sale now, start at $38 (including $3 facility fee) and may be purchased online at https://www.nycitycenter.org/events-tickets, by calling 212/581-1212, or in person at the New York City Center box office located at 131 West 55th Street (between 6th & 7th Avenues). Phone and online orders incur an additional $7 handling fee.
Performances run through March 18, 2023. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 7:30pm, with matinees Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30pm.
NEW COVID PROTOCOLS: Masks are required for Tuesday evening and Sunday matinee performances. At all other performances, masks are optional but strongly encouraged.
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