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THE FATAL WEAKNESS, George Kelly’s last produced play, tells the story of Ollie Espenshade—an incurable romantic who discovers, after 28 years of marriage, that her husband is a lying cheat. It opened in New York on November 19, 1946 in a production starring Ina Claire. Although Claire’s triumphant return to Broadway after a five year absence garnered much of the press attention, Kelly’s play turned more than a few critics’ heads.
Admired for his character-driven satires and gimlet-eyed plays of modern manners, George Kelly (1887-1974) led a distinguished career in the New York theatre from the 1910s through the 1940s.
“There must be no shortage of little-known, finely crafted, funny, thought-provoking plays exploring the fracturing of English society in the early twentieth century, because the Mint Theatre Company keeps coming up with them,”1 wrote the New Yorker of MARY BROOME. Monkhouse’s biting comedy tells the story of a household turned upside down by an upstairs/downstairs liaison between the ne’er do well son and the honest housemaid.
Allan Monkhouse (1858-1936) was a dramatist, novelist, and critic known for his piquant portrayal of middle class life in northern England. He startled audiences with complex characters, who pierced societal niceties as they grappled with the contradictions of a rapidly changing world.
Despite having a successful career as a playwright before he became a children’s author, A.A. Milne was remembered primarily as the creator of Winnie the Pooh until the Mint’s incandescent revivals of MR. PIM PASSES BY and THE TRUTH ABOUT BLAYDS. The occasion marked their first New York productions in over 70 years.
A.A. Milne (Playwright 1882-1956) published his first verses in Punch in 1904 at the age of 22. Before long he was a regular contributor to the famous English humor magazine and in 1906 he became the assistant editor, a position he held until 1918. During World War I Milne served in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment as a signals officer. He was posted to France briefly in 1916 and wrote propaganda for the Intelligence service. During his training period, he wrote his first play, Wurzel-Flummery, which was produced in London in 1917. With the encouragement of his friend James Barrie, Milne then applied himself to playwriting. His first real hit was Mr. Pim Passes By which premiered in London in 1920, around the same time of the birth of his son, Christopher Robin. All of the Winnie-the-Pooh verses were written during a four-year stretch that began in 1924. After that, to Milne’s great dismay, he would never again achieve any lasting success as either playwright or novelist. He once wrote of the lovable menagerie that gave him his lasting fame, “I wanted to escape from them as I once wanted to escape from Punch as I have always wanted to escape. In vain…” Milne wrote numerous essays, novels, and even a successful detective story: The Red House Mystery. But for Milne, writing plays was, “the most exciting form of writing….” The Dover Road, The Truth about Blayds, The Great Broxopp, Success, The Fourth Wall — or The Perfect Alibi, Michael and Mary, Portrait of a Gentleman in Slippers and Other People’s Lives are among the more than 25 plays he penned.
George Bernard Shaw called St. John Hankin “the Mephistopheles of the new comedy.” At Hankin’s funeral, Shaw eulogized him as “a most gifted writer of the high comedy of the kind that is a stirring and important criticism of life.” Granville Barker rated THE CHARITY THAT BEGAN AT HOME as the best of Hankin’s plays and Hankin himself agreed.
St John (pronounced Sin Gin) Hankin began to contribute humorous essays and dramatic parodies including new “last-acts” for well-known plays to Punch magazine 1898. In 1901 some of his contributions were anthologized as Mr. Punch’s Dramatic Sequels. Hankin also contributed about seventy drama reviews to The London Times before beginning his career as a playwright in 1903 with The Two Mr. Wetherby’s. Hankin was actively involved in running the Stage Society, a London theater group that supported plays of literary merit, founded in part, to avoid the Lord Chamberlain’s censorship.
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