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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.
“The Mint Theater Company, one of New York’s most admired Off-Broadway troupes, specializes in neglected plays that have slipped through the cracks. More often than not it comes up with gems, among the most notable of which was Rachel Crothers’s SUSAN AND GOD, first seen in 1937 and revived by the Mint to impressive effect in 2006. Now the company has gone back to the same well with an equally strong staging of another Crothers play, A LITTLE JOURNEY, which hasn’t been performed professionally in New York since it closed on Broadway in 1919—and guess what? It’s just as good.”1
Rachel Crothers (1878-1958) was among America’s most successful and produced playwrights during the first three decades of the twentieth century. Nearly 30 of her plays opened on Broadway between 1906 and 1937. “Although it rare now to find anyone who has heard of her,” wrote the New York Times in 1980, “Miss Crothers at the apex of her career was a symbol of success in the commercial theater.”
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.
Known mainly for his oft-adapted work La Ronde (or Reigen), FAR AND WIDE (Das weite Land) introduced New York audiences to European playwright Arthur Schnitzler as they had never seen him before. FAR AND WIDE is a complex examination of love and sex among the decadent upper classes of early twentieth century Vienna. It opened simultaneously in nine European cities in 1911 but was never seen in New York until Jonathan Bank’s adaptation premiered at the Mint in 2003.
Arthur Schnitzler (Playwright 1862-1931) was one of the most famous of all of the great personalities in Vienna at the turn of the last century. A prolific author, Schnitzler wrote more than twenty prose works including stories, novellas and novels in addition to over twenty-five plays. From before 1900 until 1925, Schnitzler was more talked about, and his plays were more performed on the stages of Germany and Austria than any other writer. Schnitzler was both a Jew and a critic of the Austrian Monarchy, contributing to the censorship of his work in his lifetime, and by the Nazi’s after his death. His work ultimately suffered the same fate as the Viennese culture that he was describing and vanished into obscurity after Word War I. His best-known play today is probably Reigen a.k.a. La Ronde. This work was the basis for The Blue Room by David Hare, as well as the recently released film Love in the Time of Money. Audiences may also be familiar with Anatol, an early work (1893) consisting of seven scenes variously controversial, censored or banned for immorality. Neither of these plays accurately represents the breadth or depth of Schnitzler’s genius; what Benedict Nightingale describes as his “inquisitive, complex, formidably moral intelligence.”
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