Discovering Becomes A Woman

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Discovering Becomes A Woman

From Artistic Director Jonathan Bank

Many of the plays Mint has produced are best described as rediscoveries, plays that were successful once but then forgotten. A few don’t quite fit that description. Some were published but never produced (YOURS UNFAITHFULLY by Miles Malleson, THE FIFTH COLUMN by Ernest Hemingway, WALKING DOWN BROADWAY by Dawn Powell). Others had brief initial runs but were never published (WOMEN WITHOUT MEN by Hazel Ellis and SO HELP ME GOD! by Maurine Dallas Watkins). BECOMES A WOMAN by Betty Smith was neither published nor produced.

It wasn’t hard to find BECOMES A WOMAN once I went looking, which I did after receiving an email from my friend David Stenn, author, film & television writer and producer, and long-time Mint audience member. David had just finished reading Smith’s novel TOMORROW WILL BE BETTER in an edition which featured an afterword written by her daughter, Nancy Smith Pfeiffer. Nancy writes: “the forerunner of A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN is an early threeact play called BECOMES A WOMAN. The character of Francie was developed in a play called FRANCIE NOLAN.”

Actually, those two works turned out to be the same play, which I discovered when I requested copies of both from the University of North Carolina, where Betty’s papers are held.

After reading the play, I sat down to read A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN (for the first time) and it was only then that I knew for sure the play was not a precursor to the novel, as Nancy had written. Francie Nolan is the name of the protagonist in both works. They are not the same character, but of course they each are filled with Betty’s own experiences, feelings, and dreams.

Am I the only one ever to ask the Betty Smith Archives at UNC for a copy of the play? I’m sure not. In fact, I later learned of an online database called North American Women’s Drama available to libraries and universities by subscription which includes the play. Why would such a good play written by such a famous woman go unproduced and unknown? I don’t know the answer, but you’ll have to admit, it does make a pretty good case for the value of Mint Theater Company.

It was a great thrill to discover this play. When we announced plans to present the World Premiere, I described it as one of Mint’s most exciting discoveries ever. One of the things that made it so exciting for me, was my hope that Betty’s family would be able to join us on Opening night, especially her daughter Nancy who led us to look for the play in the first place.

Here’s a picture of me with Betty’s family on opening night. Seated is Nancy (Betty’s daughter), with Liz Aivano (Nancy’s daughter and Betty’s granddaughter). Standing from left to right is Betty’s grandson Eric Pfeiffer, her great grandson Derek, then me, then David Aivano (Liz’s husband). Nancy is now 101 and is looking forward to watching the play again via streaming.

Free and on Demand
February 19th to March 17th, 2024
Closed Captioning Avaiable
The scan of the script from Betty Smith’s papers at the University of North Carolina.
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