Drama | Comedy | MUSICAL | Fringe | Archive | HOME


Follow @theatreguidelon

Sightseeing Pass logo

 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows, and various online archives preserve still more vintage productions. Even as things return to normal we continue to review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

Becomes A Woman
Mint Theater Online   February-March 2024

This is a sort of play they don't write any more, and that's a shame because Betty Smith's 1931 drama not only has something to say and says it, but it also creates a rounded, multifaceted reality that you absolutely believe.

Smith, better known as a novelist (A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, like this play a slice-of-life picture of working-class New Yorkers), wrote the play as an undergraduate. It was good enough to win a play competition and start her on a successful writing career, but evidently not to interest a commercial producer until now.

New York's Off Broadway Mint Theater, who specialize in rediscovering neglected plays from the early Twentieth Century, do the playwright full justice in this actually its first-ever production, staged in 2023 and now streaming on line.

The title is a pun, as the play explores not only the process of growing up but also conflicting concepts of what is most appropriate or attractive in a woman.

Francie is a 19 year old shop-girl who has had a very controlled home life her parents decided when she should quit school and go to work, and she hasn't been allowed to date.

Much of the first act is devoted to her co-workers teasing her for being so innocent and afraid of life, so that she surprises them and us by accepting the advances of the boss's playboy son and dating him.

Act Two takes us to her home and her gruff but loving parents, and we begin to see a world defined by limited expectations and ambitions.

Mother insists that her boys stay in high school but 'two years was enough for a girl' while 'Stick to your own kind' applies to all social interactions and not just romance.

Father and mother can go within seconds from parental indignation that Francie has disobeyed their rules and started dating, to excitement at the news that the boy is rich, to instant and absolute knee-jerk rejection of her for being 'in trouble.'

The play will go on to show Francie developing the ability to stand up to them; to the boy's father, who assumes he can buy her off; to the boy himself, so she can lay down the rules for any relationship they may have; and to her own fears and limited imagination.

For all its commentary on morality, class, the role of women and the double standard, the real power of Becomes A Woman lies in the creation of a solid and wholly believable reality. What the characters say or do may sometimes surprise us, but once said or done they instantly seem both right and inevitable.

Even when they're at their shallowest we sense the good nature of the other shop-girls; even at their most closed-minded we understand that Francie's parents really couldn't and wouldn't act any other way.

And Francie herself grows from frightened mouse not to triumphant Amazon but just to a woman more able to cope and survive.

True to its realistic view of these characters and the world they inhabit, the play does not reach for an artificial happy ending, but for more than anyone in it would have guessed possible. 'Everything I ever feared happened,' says Francie. 'And I didn't die.'

By modern standards Smith may occasionally spell out things we would prefer to find for ourselves, but director Britt Berke finds almost all that is strongest in the play the first act might have had a slightly harder edge to it by following the Mint Theater's policy of respecting and never patronising it.

Relative newcomer Emma Pfitzar Price carries most of the play's emotional weight as Francie, and takes her through the ups and downs of her journey to the discovery of her own strength in a way that never loses our belief.

Strong support in individual scenes comes from Gina Daniels as the one friend who never deserts her, Jeb Brown and Antoinette LaVecchia as the parents limited and hardened by their own experience, and Duane Boutt as the seducer's father who proves a far better man than his son.

Gerald Berkowitz

Receive alerts when we post new reviews

Return to Theatreguide.London home page

Review of Becomes A Woman  -Mint Theater 2024
Marquee TV Arts on Demand. Bring the Arts Home. Subscribe.