Fashions For Men

The Story

FASHIONS FOR MEN is a comedy of character by Ferenc Molnár, set in a high-class haberdashery in Budapest (serving both men and women). The shop's owner, Peter Juhasz, is a saintly beacon of decency who only sees the good in everyone—making him easy prey for the sinners who surround him. When his wife steals his last dollar and runs off with his top salesman, Peter is on his own, facing bankruptcy. Will he wise up and learn to protect himself from those who would take advantage of his goodness? Or will he persist in seeing the world through the rose-colored lens of his own compassion?

The play was first produced at Budapest's National Theater in 1917. In 1922 it appeared on Broadway as FASHIONS FOR MEN in an English translation by Benjamin Glazer, who had successfully translated Molnár's Liliom the previous year. (Brooks Atkinson of the Times called Liliom "one of the most beautiful plays in the modern theater." It is now best remembered as the source for the musical Carousel.)

FASHIONS turned out to be another Broadway triumph for Molnár. The New York Times praised the play as "a comedy of indescribable freshness and authenticity of character" that revealed "a fresh phase of [Molnár's] versatile genius."

While nearly every review considered the production a success, critics struggled to make sense of the play's remarkable central character. Was Peter Juhasz a man of saintly goodness, or a docile fool? Descriptions of Molnár's protagonist ranged from "unworldly" and "benevolent" to "incompetent" and "pathetic." The Evening Mail called Juhasz "one of the most lovable persons the theater has given us in a long time," while Alexander Woollcott of The New York Herald confided that he "wished he would fall down and break his neck." Particularly frustrated were those critics who found Molnár's intention too ambiguous. "During half the length of the play he makes all manner of fun of his meek hero, but in the end the character has the last laugh on the playwright," wrote Heywood Broun of The World.

Meanwhile, John Corbin of The New York Times revealed a sure grasp on the playwright's intent. In his review, he described the shopkeeper Juhasz as "a character conceived with the most exquisite grace of sympathy." Two weeks later, Corbin wrote a second piece claiming that the play had "suffered seriously because of misapprehension on the part of first-night reporters…here they have a play which presents the human comedy of sainthood with an art of realism as finely true as Liliom was free and fantastic—and they seem sorely perplexed what to make of it…The spirit of human kindness exists in human nature, says Ferenc Molnár, so let us consider it in quite normal surroundings—what it is like and what happens to it…never has character been more freshly sensed in the theatre or more keenly observed."

FERENC MOLNÁR

By Maya Cantu

In the first half of the twentieth century, the Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnár rose to international acclaim with his cosmopolitan fairy tales for adults. Molnár's plays inventively blended romantic fantasy and sardonic wit; pointed social satire and polished theatricality. Best known today for the mystical folk play Liliom (1922; the basis of the classic musical Carousel) and the sophisticated comedy The Guardsman, Molnár was immensely prolific as a journalist, short story writer, novelist, and the author of forty-two plays, many of which were performed widely throughout Europe and America.

Born as Ferenc Neumann on January 12, 1878, to a middle-class Hungarian-Jewish family, Molnár grew up amid the elegant milieu of Habsburg-era Budapest. Abandoning his early legal studies at the city's Royal College of Science, Molnár set his sights on a career in journalism. He quickly established himself as one of Hungary's most distinguished newspapermen, as well as a fixture of Budapest's vibrant café life. The writer achieved international fame in 1907, with the publication of A Pál utcai fiúk (The Paul Street Boys), his classic novel of Budapest street gangs, as well as the sensational success of his play Az ördög (The Devil). A risqué supernatural comedy of intrigue, the play had four simultaneous productions in New York City alone.

Molnár's theatrical career flourished throughout the next decade. The Hungarian premieres of Liliom (1909), A Testőr (The Guardsman, 1910)) and A Farkas (The Tale of the Wolf; 1912) were followed by productions of these plays in Vienna, Berlin, and Paris, among other European cities. The onset of World War I turned Molnar's efforts toward war correspondence. Despite Austria-Hungary's status as an enemy of the Allies, Molnár's balanced and humane observations of the war earned the distinction of publication in The New York Times.

Following WWI, Molnár earned both popular affection and critical renown as "the best-known living Continental playwright in America" (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle). In 1921, Liliom marked a monumental success for the Theatre Guild, who also mounted the legendary 1924 production of The Guardsman, a comedy of marital roleplaying starring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.

While stage productions (as well as many Hollywood film adaptations) of Molnár plays appeared regularly into the 1930s, the rise of Nazism impelled the playwright's 1940 emigration to the United States, where he lived in a room at New York's Plaza Hotel. Sobered by the horrors of two World Wars, Molnár's later plays are characterized by their darker, disenchanted tone. Still a theatrical institution in America and Europe (though banned in Communist Hungary), the playwright died after a long illness in New York in 1952, survived by his third wife, actress Lili Darvas.

Over half a century later, the writer of plays designed with "romantic imagination and colorful sophistication" (Associated Press), and crafted with "virtuoso skill" (The New York Times), Ferenc Molnár elegantly returns to the stage with Fashions for Men.

Mint Theater is proud to offer New York theatergoers Ferenc Molnár's FASHIONS FOR MEN—an elegant blend of European sophistication and sentiment, beautifully tailored by master craftsman. Returning to the Mint to helm our production will be Davis McCallum; last year Davis directed our Drama Desk Award-nominated production of LONDON WALL.

Cast

  • Mark Bedard
  • Joe Delafield
  • Jeremy Lawrence
  • Annie Purcell
  • Kurt Rhoads
  • Michael Schantz
  • Maren Searle
  • John Seidman
  • Jill Tanner
  • John Tufts
  • Gabra Zackman
  • Name Name

Creatives

  • Sets Daniel Zimmerman
  • Costumes Martha Hally
  • Lights Eric Southern
  • Original Music & Sound Jane Shaw
  • Props Joshua Yocom
  • Casting Judy Bowman
  • Production Stage Manager Allison Deutsch
  • Assistant Stage Manager Name Name
  • Illustration Stefano Imbert
  • Graphics Hey Jude Design, Inc.
  • Advertising The Pekoe Group
  • Press David Gersten & Associates