Sunday, 7 September 2014

George Kelly's THE FATAL WEAKNESS at the Mint Theatre

     I got very interested in George Kelly while researching my book, THE DRAMA OF MARRIAGE. I wasn't crazy about his early hits, THE TORCH BEARERS and THE SHOW OFF, loved the film versions of CRAIG'S WIFE, but felt that his later, less appreciated work, was his best, particularly the quirky comedy, THE FATAL WEAKNESS, first produced in 1946. The Mint Theatre has given this forgotten play (119 performances in 1946 and barely seen since) a pitch-perfect production, thanks to director Jesse Marchese and a fine cast.
     THE FATAL WEAKNESS is a play about marriage form the point of view of three middle-class women. Mrs. Espinshade, the central character, loves to crash weddings and cry at their romance and idealism. Her daughter Penny has been listening to lectures by a Russian radical and believes marriages are "an arrestment of the spirit." Her husband has left her after too many of her pronouncement against the ideal of marriage. Mrs. Espinshade's divorced best friend Mabel doesn't see how two people can stay together for long periods of time. Meanwhile, Mr. Espinshade, has fallen in love with a woman doctor. The crux of the play is Mrs. Espinshade's varied, often bizarre responses to her husband's adultery.
     There are very funny moments in the play, but Kelly is also serious about his satire on affluent women who have nothing to do -- no careers, no real interests, no solid personalities. Mrs. Espinshade is constantly quoting other people, making a personal drama of things she has heard, the more sentimental the better.
     Jesse Marchese's excellent production is a strong argument for the many merits of THE FATAL WEAKNESS. The production is fast paced in the manner of 1930s screwball comedies. The characters talk at a fast clip and their inflections echo those of actors and actresses in classic film comedies of the black and white era. There's a real sense of an ensemble style. Marchese is a director to watch. The mirrored wall setting (Vicki R. Davis) and the costumes (Andrea Varga) are beautiful and elegant. The cast couldn't be better. At first I thought Kristin Griffith was too glamorous for Mrs. Espinshade (I imagined her more as a Zazu Pitts type), but the line readings and wonderful facial expressions were perfect for the role. There isn't a weak link in the cast. This production, like last season's LONDON WALL, was of as high a quality as you will find at any New York theatre.
     If you haven't discovered the Mint Theatre, tucked on the third floor of an office building on 43rd Street right next to Second Stage, do find it. Not everything they do is of this caliber, but they deserve the loyal patronage of anyone interested in theatre.
THE FATAL WEAKNESS. Mint Theatre. September 7, 2014.

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