|Mint Theater to present American Premiere of Noël Coward’s THE RAT TRAP & World Premiere of BECOMES A WOMAN by Betty Smith (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn)|
|Posted by: Official_Press_Release 08:07 pm EDT 10/01/22|
|Mint Theater Company
Returns to New York City Center Stage II
With Two Very Special Premieres:
The American Premiere of Noël Coward's
THE RAT TRAP
Directed by Alexander Lass
November 1st through December 10th
The World Premiere of
BECOMES A WOMAN
By Betty Smith (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn)
Directed by Britt Berke
February 7th through March 18th, 2023
Mint Theater Company (Jonathan Bank, Producing Artistic Director) will return to New York City Center Stage II with two plays by famous authors, one from England, the other American. These two plays could not be more different in setting and style, yet each tells the story of an exceptional young woman trying to make her way in a world dominated by powerful men.
First up is the American premiere of Noël Coward's The Rat Trap, directed by Alexander Lass. Performances will begin November 1st at New York City Center Stage II (131 West 55th Street, between 6th & 7th Avenues) for a limited Off-Broadway engagement through December 10th only. Opening Night is set for Monday November 21st (6:30pm).
Featured in the cast will be James Evans (The Woman in Black - Off-Broadway), Elisabeth Gray (Yours Unfaithfully - Mint Theater, Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's - Broadway), Ramzi Khalaf (Pippin - Paper Mill Playhouse, A Christmas Carol: A New Musical - Madison Square Garden), Heloise Lowenthal (Bristol Old Vic), Cynthia Mace ( The Mountains Look Different, The Suitcase Under the Bed - Mint), Claire Saunders (Chains - Mint), and Sarin Monae West (The Skin of Our Teeth - Lincoln Center Theater). Emily Bosco, Jason Eddy, and Kate Hampton will serve as understudies. The creative team includes Vicki R. Davis (scenic), Hunter Kaczorowski (costumes), Christian DeAngelis (lighting), Bill Toles (sound), Amy Stoller (dialect), and Stephanie Klapper, CSA (casting).
Performances will be Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 7:30pm, with matinees Wednesday, Saturday and Sundays at 2:30pm. Please note: no matinee performances on November 2nd & 9th; no evening performances November 23rd, 24th and 30th. Tickets for The Rat Trap, which are on sale now, start at $38 (including $3 facility fee) and may be purchased online at NYCityCenter.org, 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.
Written when Coward was only 18 years old, this remarkably mature drama tells the story of a newlywed couple looking towards a bright future together, two promising writers vowing to support and love each other through the challenges of creative and professional endeavor. Things go even worse than you might imagine—the result is a drama of caustic realism, mixed with flashes of Coward's brilliant, biting wit. Looking back on the play in 1937 in his autobiography, Present Indicative, Coward called it "My first really serious attempt at psychological conflict… When I had finished it, I felt, for the first time with genuine conviction, that I could really write plays."
The Rat Trap was announced for a tryout in 1923, but sadly, that never happened, presumably due to the death of the actress Meggie Albanesi, who was intended to play Sheila. Albanesi's biographer, Frances Gray, speculated that Coward may have intended The Rat Trap as a vehicle for the two of them. When The Rat Trap was published in 1924, Coward dedicated it to the "Dear Memory" of Albanesi, who was widely mourned as the "most promising actress of the younger generation." Only a few close friends, and likely Coward, knew the truth: that Albanesi had died not from an operation for appendicitis or from "nervous tension" — among other causes circulated by the press — but from the peritonitis that followed a botched abortion.
The play was not produced until 1926, riding on the coattails of Coward's recent successes with The Vortex, Hay Fever and Fallen Angels — not to mention his ascending fame as an actor. Audiences expecting the scandalous decadence and high farce of these other works must have been surprised by The Rat Trap — less dry martini and more bitter stout: dark, strong and sour. It ran for the scheduled two weeks and disappeared. Coward, away from England, never even saw it.
Critical reception of The Rat Trap in 1926 was compromised by Coward himself — he was on a boat headed to America while it was in rehearsal, giving the clear impression that he didn't care. "To produce the play on the fringe of town, half apologetically as a work of youth and curiosity, was to damage it in advance," wrote the critic for The Sunday Times. Variety went so far as to say that "Coward had taken no interest in the production. If he had, why did he run away?" Even worse was the introduction Coward wrote for the 1924 publication in which he admits defeat for his untried play and throws it overboard, "For years I have mourned the fact that The Rat Trap never saw the light of day…but now the time for it is past." He dismisses the play as an "early work," providing fodder for critics to later quote.
The first ever revival came 80 years later at the Finborough in London, where it was exclaimed by the Evening Standard as "an absolute revelation." "An unjustly forgotten drama that is both like and interestingly unlike the plays that followed," Jeremy Kingston wrote in The Times. "Anyone interested in Coward should see it," said Alastair Macaulay in Financial Times (12/4/2006).
Sir No?l Coward was born in 1899 and made his professional stage debut as Prince Mussel in The Goldfish at the age of 12, leading to many child actor appearances over the next few years. His breakthrough in playwriting was the controversial The Vortex (1924), which featured themes of drugs and adultery and made his name as both actor and playwright in the West End and on Broadway. During the frenzied 1920s and the more sedate ‘30s, Coward wrote a string of successful plays, musicals and intimate revues including Fallen Angels (1925), Hay Fever (1925), Easy Virtue (1926), This Year of Grace (1928), and Bitter Sweet (1929). His professional partnership with childhood friend Gertrude Lawrence started with Private Lives (1931), and continued with Tonight at 8:30 (1936). During World War II, he remained a successful playwright, screenwriter and director, as well as entertaining the troops and even acting as an unofficial spy for the Foreign Office. His plays during these years included Blithe Spirit, which ran for 1997 performances, (a West End record until The Mousetrap overtook it), This Happy Breed and Present Laughter (both 1943). His two wartime screenplays, In Which We Serve, which he co-directed with the young David Lean, and Brief Encounter, quickly became classics of British cinema. However, the post-war years were more difficult. Austerity Britain – the London critics determined – was out of tune with the brittle Coward wit. In response, Coward re-invented himself as a cabaret and TV star, particularly in America, and in 1955 he played a sell-out season in Las Vegas featuring many of his most famous songs, including "Mad About the Boy," "I'll See You Again" and "Mad Dogs and Englishmen." In the mid-1950s he settled in Jamaica and Switzerland, and enjoyed a renaissance in the early ‘60s, becoming the first living playwright to be performed by the National Theatre when he directed Hay Fever there. Late in his career he was lauded for his roles in a number of films, including Our Man In Havana (1959) and his role as the iconic Mr. Bridger alongside Michael Caine in The Italian Job (1968). Writer, actor, director, film producer, painter, songwriter, cabaret artist as well as an author of a novel, verse, essays and autobiographies, he was called by close friends "The Master." His final West End appearance was Song at Twilight in 1966, which he wrote and starred in. He was knighted in 1970 and died peacefully in 1973 in his beloved Jamaica.
Alexander Lass is an award-nominated theatre director who specializes in timely revivals of classic texts and world premieres. He has collaborated on projects ranging from Harold Pinter revivals starring Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart to creating site-specific responses to iconic heritage spaces such as Hampton Court Palace. Alexander is committed to diversity, inclusivity, and access. His work features underrepresented voices, distinctive characters, surprising narratives and contemporary resonances. Alexander believes in the beneficial power of theatre to promote joy, encourage kind curiosity, cultivate understanding, and celebrate our shared humanity. Selected directing credits include: Untold Stories by Rabiah Hussain, Naomi Sheldon, Kaamil Shah and Rosanna Suppa (Hampton Court Palace); My Name Is Asher Lev by Aaron Posner (Rehearsed Reading, JW3 London), The Permanent Way by David Hare (Vaults, London), Ages of the Moon by Sam Shepard (Vaults, London), When The Birds Come by Tallulah Brown (Underbelly, Edinburgh); The Green Ship by Quentin Blake (Librarian Theatre / Arts Council Funded UK Tour); 46 Beacon (Trafalgar Studios 2), Chips with Everything by Arnold Wesker (Farrer Theatre), Giant Leap by Mickey Down and Konrad Kay (Pleasance, Edinburgh), Young Bloods by Oliver Johnstone and Robin Morrissey (RADA Festival), A Midsummer Night's Dream (LAMDA Summer School), Scenes on the Sand by Isley Lynn and others (Arcola Tent, London), Skeletons by David Lewis and Unrivalled Landscape by Caitlin Shannon and others (Orange Tree Theatre, London), Donkeys' Years by Michael Frayn and The Relapse by John Vanbrugh (Howard Theatre, Cambridge). Associate/Assistant work includes: Shakespeare in Love dir. Phillip Breen (UK Tour), No Man's Land dir. Sean Mathias starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart (UK Tour and West End – Evening Standard and WhatsOnStage Award winner, Best Revival), Poppea dir. John Ramster, cond. Dame Jane Glover (Royal Academy of Music Opera), Confusions & Hero's Welcome dir. Alan Aykbourn (Stephen Joseph Theatre / UK Tour), Oppenheimer dir. Angus Jackson (RSC Swan Theatre / Vaudeville West End), London Wall dir. Davis McCallum (Mint Theater Company, NYC – Lucille Lortel and Drama Desk award nominated), and Holes dir. Phillip Breen (Edinburgh & London). Alexander trained at LAMDA, The Orange Tree Theatre, and on The National Theatre Directors Course. Alexander was nominated as Best Director at the inaugural Stage Debut Awards for 46 Beacon at Trafalgar Studios 2.
Mint's second offering at NY City Center this season was chosen with the first play in mind, says Mint's Artistic Director Jonathan Bank. "Last spring, I read about a poll that showed a majority of men under 50 believe that 'feminism has done more harm than good.' That was on my mind as I was making decisions about programming the 2022-'23 season. I don't usually concern myself with thematic ties between productions, but this year I've picked two plays that tell dramatic stories of the treatment women have had to endure forever—and the limited options, and the hard decisions they have often been forced to make," said Bank.
In February, Mint will present the World Premiere of one of its most exciting discoveries ever: Becomes a Woman, an unpublished and unproduced play by Betty Smith (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn). Smith's 1930 drama will run from February 7 through March 18, 2023, at NY City Center Stage II, directed by Britt Berke. Tickets for Becomes a Woman, which will go on sale November 1st, start at $38 (including $3 facility fee) and may be purchased online at NYCityCenter.org, by calling 212/581-1212, or in person at the New York City Center box office (131 West 55th Street, between 6th & 7th Avenues). Phone and online orders incur an additional $7 handling fee.
Readers of Smith's semi-autobiographical coming of age story may remember that 11-year-old Francie Nolan longed to be a "writer of plays." Francie discovered that crafting dialogue was "a remarkably easy way of writing. In a story you had to explain why people were the way they were, but when you wrote in conversation you didn't have to do that because the things the people said explained what they were."
Betty Smith (December 15, 1896 – January 17, 1972) was best known for her 1943 bestselling novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Published to instant critical and popular acclaim, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, along with her other novels, possessed the same strong autobiographical overtones of a brightness amid poverty and enduring optimism amid oppression. Though acclaimed as a novelist, Betty Smith's first love was always the theater. From a young age, Smith had a deep and abiding interest in the theater; she regularly attended Saturday matinees at Brooklyn theaters for ten cents each, which allowed her to stand in the gallery. Although she never graduated from high school, Betty ended up pursuing an education at the University of Michigan where her life reached a turning point when she won the University's Avery Hopwood Award which came with a cash prize enabling Smith to invest in herself and accept an invitation to study drama at Yale with the legendary George Pierce Baker. Other Baker students over the years have included Eugene O'Neill, Philip Barry, Thomas Wolfe, and George Abbott, among others. Smith died of pneumonia in Shelton, Connecticut, at the age of 75.
Smith's prize-winning play was called Francie Nolan, after its 19-year-old protagonist, but she changed the title to Becomes a Woman when she applied for a copyright in 1930. Although the name may be the same as the character that made Betty Smith famous 13-years later, her story is quite different. In Becomes a Woman Francie is 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. Afraid that something might happen to her. But just you wait! She's the kind that some smooth-tongued fellow will get hold of someday. When he's through, she'll be broken like that." Which is exactly what happens to Francie, leaving her to pick up the pieces with a shocking display of independence and courage.
Britt Berke has directed and developed projects with New York Theatre Workshop (Adelphi residency), The Public Theatre, Mabou Mines, Torn Out Theater (AKA "the naked Shakespeare company"), La Mama, Cherry Lane: Tongues Series, NYU Studio Tisch, Ithaca College Hillel, PLAYDATE, and Origin Theater's 1st Irish Festival (Best Director nom.). Most recently, Britt directed and co-produced a concert of original songs to benefit NourishNYC, a grassroots mutual aid group. Britt and her work have been featured in The New Yorker, Time Out New York, Artforum, and SDC Journal. Britt is a member of Roundabout Directors Group and the co-founder of November Theatre (a transatlantic collective); she is an alumna of the MTC Directing Fellowship, the Moxie Incubator, the 24 Hour Plays: Nationals, and the SDC & NAMT Directing Observerships. She has collaborated with and assistant directed for JoAnne Akalaitis, Lileana Blain-Cruz, Gabriel Vega-Weissman and Alice Reagan. Britt attended Barnard College of Columbia University, where she was awarded the Kenneth Janes Prize for Outstanding Intellectual and Artistic Achievement. Associate Member, SDC. brittberke.com.
"Of all the countless Off-Broadway troupes with which the side streets of Manhattan are dotted, none has a more distinctive mission—or a higher artistic batting average—than the Mint Theater Company, which 'finds and produces worthwhile plays from the past that have been lost or forgotten.' If that sounds dull to you, don't be fooled: I've never seen a production there that was a sliver less than superb. Rachel Crothers's Susan and God, John Galsworthy's The Skin Game, Harley Granville-Barker's The Madras House, N.C. Hunter's A Day by the Sea, Dawn Powell's Walking Down Broadway, Jules Romains's Doctor Knock, John Van Druten's London Wall: All these fine plays and others just as good have been exhumed by the Mint to memorable effect in the 13 years that I've been reviewing the company, a tribute to the uncanny taste and unfailing resourcefulness of Jonathan Bank, the artistic director," said Terry Teachout in the Wall Street Journal. Mint was awarded an OBIE Award for "combining the excitement of discovery with the richness of tradition" and a special Drama Desk Award for "unearthing, presenting and preserving forgotten plays of merit."
Please note that masks are required for all guests at NY City Center, and must be worn at all times while visiting the theatre, except when eating or drinking in designated areas. Proof of vaccination will not be required for audience members. For more specific information, please visit the City Center website for the latest information regarding COVID-19.
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