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."
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.
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EnrichMINT Events are supported in part by a grant from the Michael Tuch Foundation.
All events take place immediately after the performance and usually last about fifty minutes. They are free and open to the public. Speakers and dates subject to change without notice.
Theater Historian and Dramaturg
- Saturday, February 7, after the matinee
- Maya Cantu is a theater historian, scholar and dramaturg devoted to the revitalization of forgotten classics. She recently completed her Doctor of Fine Arts degree at Yale School of Drama, where she received her MFA in Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism in 2010. Her research focuses on Broadway plays and musicals of the modernist era. Maya is Mint Theater's Dramaturgical Advisor and the author of the Ferenc Molnár biography that appears in our program and flyer.
Professor of Hungarian Literature and Slavic Languages, Columbia University
- Sunday, February 8, after the matinee
- Ivan Sanders was born in Budapest in 1944 and left Hungary in 1956 after the failed Hungarian Revolution. He received his B.A. at CUNY and his Ph.D. in comparative literature at NYU. He is Professor Emeritus of English at Suffolk Community College, Long Island, and Adjunct Assistant Professor at Columbia University, where he teaches courses in Central European drama and film—including modern Hungarian literature and cinema. He has also translated many modern and contemporary Hungarian novels, short fiction, and essays into English.
Istvan L. Varkonyi
author of Ferenc Molnár and the Austro-Hungarian "Fin de Siècle"
- Saturday, February 15, after the matinee
- Istvan Varkonyi is Associate Professor of German in the Department of French, German, Italian, and Slavic at Temple University. His area of research has been the literature and culture of Fin-de-Siècle Vienna, as well as the modernist literature of Central Europe. Dr. Varkonyi has been a recipient of two German Academic Exchange Commission (DAAD) Fellowships as well as two Fulbright Research Fellowships. He received his Ph.D. in German Language and Literature from Washington University, St. Louis.
Professor of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism, Yale School of Drama
- Saturday, February 21, after the matinee
- James Leverett is an expert in European theater of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He has worked as a dramaturg at the Mark Taper Forum, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Theatre for a New Audience, Berkshire Theatre Festival, and New York Shakespeare Festival. In 1988, he received the first Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas Award for service to the field. He holds a B.A. in German from Millsaps College, an M.A. in German from Rutgers University, and an M.A. in Theatre from the City University of New York.
Hungarian Translator and Interpreter, Hungarian Translation Services
- Sunday, February 22, after the matinee
- Agnes Niemetz is the founder of Hungarian Translation Services in NYC, which currently serves hundreds of clients across the world. She has been certified as a language specialist, simultaneous interpreter, and immigration court interpreter by three U.S. government agencies. Ms. Niemetz acted as Hungarian Language consultant on our production of FASHIONS FOR MEN. She will join Artistic Director Jonathan Bank to discuss both Glazer's English translation of the play and Molnár's original Hungarian script, Uri Divat.
- Mark Bedard
- Joe Delafield
- Jeremy Lawrence
- Rachel Napoleon
- Annie Purcell
- Kurt Rhoads
- Michael Schantz
- Maren Searle
- John Seidman
- Jill Tanner
- John Tufts
- Gabra Zackman
- 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 Jeff Meyers
- Illustration Stefano Imbert
- Graphics Hey Jude Design, Inc.
- Advertising The Pekoe Group
- Press David Gersten & Associates