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'The Fatal Weakness' - Surprises Lurk in This Comedy About a Man's Infidelity

Cynthia Darlow and Kristin Griffith in The Fatal Weakness
(©Richard Termine)

George Kelly tucks some pretty contemporary ideas into his 1946 comedy, The Fatal Weakness, which opened last night in a marvelously satisfying revival from the Mint Theater Company.

Kelly seems to be setting the play up to be a variant on Clare Booth Luce’s The Women as he introduces Mrs. Ollie Espenshade (Kristin Griffith), who, as the play begins, is fretting about the letter she’s just received. It’s informed her that her husband of nearly 25 years has been having an affair. Once Mrs. Espenshade’s best friend Mabel (Cynthia Darlow) has arrived to dispense wisdom---in the form of some particularly astute zingers---about men and the institution of marriage, Kelly's peter appears to be even more certain.

But then, Penny Hassett (Victoria Mack), Mrs. O’s daughter, visits and shares some of her own ideas about wedded bliss. She doesn’t necessarily think divorce is a bad thing, and she tells her mother that she has been straightforward with her husband about it all. Penny wonders why two people should stay married if they’ve found that they’ve grown apart. After all, as she puts it, marriage, “if it's persisted in it can become a habit.”

Ollie---a romantic at heart who shows up at strangers’ weddings ---doesn’t understand her daughter’s perspective, and at the same time allows Mabel to have her husband followed to see if the report she has received is true. It’s a terrific dual response to the news, and sets the stage for Kelly’s exploration of what “fatal weaknesses” bedevil his characters. (To say any more would spoil a lovely surprise.)

Ably directed by Jesse Marchese, the production shimmers thanks to Griffith’s performance that combines flightiness, sweetness, and even a bit of steeliness to terrific effect. Similarly Darlow’s performance delights. She beautifully delivers each of Mabel’s world-weary sage wisecracks with flair, and Mack imbues Penny with a deft combination of entitlement, arrogance and haughtiness, moderating them all with gentle charm so that the character never becomes unpalatable.

The same can be said of the two men in the show. Cliff Bemis makes for a jolly Mr. Espenshade and Sean Patrick Hopkins' turn as Penny’s good-natured and thoroughly exasperated husband Vernon proves amusing and touching. Finally, there’s fine work from Patricia Kilgarriff, who plays the Espenshades' maid. The actress gets some laughs of her own, both thanks to Kelly’s script and her own ability to arch an eyebrow at just the right moment.

The performances are made all the richer by Andrea Varga’s detail-rich costume designs that capture both the period and character. The other design elements---Vicki R. Davis’ scenic design, Christian DeAngelis’ lighting design, and Jane Shaw’s sound design---are more than serviceable, but in each instance, there’s a slight misstep. For instance, Davis has paneled the Espenshades' sitting room in what looks like brushed aluminum (a baffling choice), and DeAngelis’ design takes a twee turn late in the production. These, however, are minor quibbles with a terrific production that demonstrates, yet again, how invaluable the Mint is to New York’s theater scene.

---- Andy Propst

The Fatal Weakness plays at the Mint Theater (311 West 43rd Street, Third Floor). For more information and tickets, visit: minttheater.org.