Mourners wait in the rain for the arrival of the first hearse bearing the bodies of the young girls who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire on April 5, 1911.
A Sunday morning in the summer of 1910. In the tenement building on Manhattan’s teeming Lower East Side, Becky Felderman and her daughters; Sadie, Esther, Fanny, and her son Hymie; wait for the arrival of Harry Engel, who is helping Becky pass her citizenship examination. Aaron, their tenant, sleeps on the couch, while out on the street, Pearl and Prince sell fish from their stall. When Irving Tashman is introduced to the family, much to everyone’s delight, he sings a song he has especially composed for Fanny.
While working in the Triangle Factory, the women dream of what they wold like to do with their lives.
It is now March 25, 1911. Fanny and Irving are married, but they’re still living in Becky’s apartment. Fanny dreams of becoming a professional singer, much to Irving’s dismay.
It is Esther and Harry’s wedding day, but the owner of the Triangle Factory has told Esther that she must go to work or she will lose her job. What’s more, both Esther and her friend Mary have found out that they’re pregnant and are at a loss as to what to do, since they are both still unmarried.
Becky is horrified to discover that Esther is going to have a baby, and she reveals that her own life as a young singer back in Riga was destroyed when she became pregnant. Still, she has to admit that “all babies be kosher.” Sadie thinks that Esther became pregnant on purpose in order to trap Harry into marrying her. She tells her sister that she will never forgive her and that she hopes she dies. In despair, Becky tries to prevent her family from falling apart.
Twenty-one years later at the height of the Great Depression, F.D.R. is elected a great Democratic victory. Aaron, who is now the owner of a successful business making hats, returns to the tenement apartment and proposes marriage to Becky. As the two of them sit on his old couch by the light of the yahrzeit candles, the ghosts of Esther, who died on her wedding day in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and Hymie, who was killed on the WWI battlefield, appear to them. The figures of Sadie and Harry also appear, and Sadie confesses how hard it has been to become a tough and successful businesswoman. Aaron is appalled at Sadie’s blindness, and asks whether or not she understands that the hard-hearted avarice that caused the fire which killed her sister now burns within Sadie.
In the street outside, Pearl laments the greyness of the city and dreams of the colors of her childhood in New Orleans.
Irving has been unfaithful to Fanny once again, and this time she’s determined to sue him for divorce. Becky makes Irving promise to be faithful and to move away from the temptations of Broadway to work for his uncle in California.
When Sadie arrives with Harry, it is clear that he is very ill. He finally finds the courage to tell her that he’s had enough of their loveless marriage and that he’s leaving her, but Sadie has known all along that Harry was in love with Esther.
Sadie’s immediate concern is to get Becky to plead with Aaron to help her in her bitter struggle to break the union, whose members are threatening to go on a strike that will ruin her. Though hating what Sadie has become, and realizing that Sadie will be lost to her forever, Becky tells her daughter that she must say no.
Alone with her world in ruins now that her family has broken apart, Becky finally accepts Aaron’s proposal. They promise they will have a “fine, sweet life together.” They make a toast to everyone they have loved and to the memory of Esther.
March 25, 1911. As the Rabbi sings the Kaddish and the fire rages through the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, Esther and her friend Mary, trapped inside by the locked doors of the sweatshop, leap to their death.
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|GRANT NAME||YEAR||New Works Exploration Grants||2016||New Works Sampler ||2016||The Opera Fund: Audience Development ||2015||
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Twyla Robinson (Becky)
Elizabeth Pojanowski (Sadie)
Jennifer Zetlan (Fanny)
Elizabeth Zharoff (Esther)
Morgan Smith (Aaron Greenspan)
Andrew Bidlack (Irving Tashman)
Andrew Lovato (Harry Engel)
Kenneth Shaw (Rabbi Engel)
Jeanine De Bique (Pearl)
Larry D. Hylton (Prince)