Aperennial bestseller in her own time, the novelist and playwright Rose Franken (1896–1988) is no longer a high-visibility blip on anyone’s radar screen; in few reference books on American literature will you find her name separating Waldo Frank from Benjamin Franklin. Yet apart from her success at parlaying small domestic incidents into marketable fiction—her “Claudia” stories, collected as a novel, spawned seven sequels, a stage version, and two movies—she had a knack for giving her market wares an authenticity of substance and a professional polish that make them worth cherishing today, slightly quaint but handsome and still functioning pieces, like Bakelite radios.
Franken’s 1944 comedy Soldier’s Wife, revived by the enterprising Mint Theater, is the snazzy, streamlined, wartime Deco model in her appliance line. A tenderhearted but shrewdly knowing tale of a young wife whose letters to her hubby in the South Pacific combat zone briefly make her a bestselling writer and media heroine, it balances its images of shabby West Side domesticity and fast-lane penthouse glamour against each other like a pair of updated Currier & Ives prints, with equal affection and sardonic kidding for both. Strangely, Eleanor Reissa’s production seems to push the drab daily life toward brittle stylization. Despite Angela Pierce’s comically angular sweetness as the heroine, the evening doesn’t really ease into its natural pace until the smarties, stylishly played by Jordan Lage and Katherine Levy, invade the scene. Hold on tight through the first of the show’s three acts (two intermissions! yes!) and you’ll be well repaid: The second and third prove Franken to have been a dispenser of wit and wisdom as well as heart tuggings and wisecracks. Special praise to Clint Ramos’s costumes, which neatly balance the twin demands of ’40s high fashion and an Off-Off budget.