The Fatal Weakness

George Kelly
Mint Theater
The Mint Theater, New York

Kristin Griffith and Cynthia Darlow Credit: Richard Termine
Cliff Bemis and Victoria Mack Credit: Richard Termine
Kristin Griffith, Cliff Bemis, and Cynthia Darlow Credit: Richard Termine

The Mint Theater is one of New York’s best hidden secrets. It produces high quality revivals of lost plays from around the English-speaking world, taking viewers back to a time when theatre was good, clean fun.

The Fatal Weakness, originally produced on stage in 2014, is one of three plays released as part of their Summer Stock Streaming Festival, featuring 30 actors and stage managers who have nobly been re-employed for a fortnight.

Director Jesse Marchese directs the final play from American writer George Kelly, which was first produced in November 1946, a time that might inevitably have parallels with our own, although, rather than a pandemic, the world was then just trying to normalise after the ravages of a life-changing World War.

The two hour-long drama is triggered by a poison pen letter received by highly strung society hostess Ollie Espenshade, played by Kristin Griffith. The missive accuses her husband Paul, portrayed by Cliff Bemis, of spending rather more time than is seemly with a female osteopath. Inevitably, this not only sends proud Ollie into mild hysterics but threatens a previously solid 28-year marriage.

The lady’s efforts to discover the truth are ‘assisted’ by Cynthia Darlow playing her smug friend Mabel, clearly a lover of scandal and only too keen to get involved and utilise her comical amateur spy network.

The situation isn’t helped by the home team’s daughter Victoria Mack as frosty, dissatisfied Penny, a daddy’s girl with strident, though debatably misguided, views about marriage, education and her mother.

She is soon followed by Sean Patrick Hopkins in the role of husband Vernon in what increasingly looks like the set-up for a farce, even before George Kelly adds in the antics of the couple’s precocious but unseen 2-year-old.

Instead of a farce, this turns out to be a bittersweet meditation on marriage, viewed through the prisms of two prime examples, both of which are strewn with impediments.

In addition to the performers, credit should also be given to designers Vicki R Davis and Andrea Varga for their respective work on a spectacular drawing room set and what look to be perfect period costumes that symbolise their characters as well as adorning them.

The Fatal Weakness is very much of its time but this faithful revival both shines a light on gender politics 75 years ago and still has much to say to those seeking marital bliss today, especially when the drama reaches more than one moment of truth in the last of the three acts.

A password is required in order to watch plays in this season and Mint Theater has kindly provided BTG readers with “LostPlays2020”, which will allow access.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher