After 28 years of marriage, Ollie Espenshade is still an incurable romantic (her fatal weakness). Perhaps discovering that her husband is a lying cheat will cure her?
THE FATAL WEAKNESS, George Kelly’s last produced play, is a smart comedy about romance, marriage and commitment. It opened in New York on November 19, 1946 in a production by the legendary Theatre Guild 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.
“One of Kelly’s best. It reveals keen understanding of character—an evening of genuine quality.” wrote Ward Morehouse in The New York Sun. Richard Watts Jr. of the New York Post called THE FATAL WEAKNESS “so fresh in its observations, three-dimensional in its characters and human in its humor that it emerges as the first important new comedy of the season.” The play went on to be hailed “Best New Comedy” by George Jean Nathan’s Honor List in Theatre Book of the Year, 1946-1947.
But Kelly’s comedy was too dramatic for some critics. The Times’ Brooks Atkinson could not reconcile the play’s sober themes with its shrewd sense of humor. “He has remarkable facility for writing comic lines, [but] he has not decided whether he is writing capricious comedy or psychological drama,” Atkinson complained—accusing him of “playing both sides of the street.”
Meanwhile, The Nation’s Joseph Wood Krutch recognized that this duality was the play’s greatest strength. “Neither the action nor the author’s commentary ever falls into any of the familiar grooves one is perpetually expecting it to find. Mr. Kelly rejects all the ready-made patterns which would immediately render his play comfortably classifiable and thus defeats all the easy expectations.” John Chapman of the New York Daily News agreed with Krutch, calling THE FATAL WEAKNESS, “an evening of intelligent, smooth fun. It is a kind of fun that goes deeper than laughter, for any exposure of human frailty is not without its sobering side.”
In 1976, THE FATAL WEAKNESS was revived as a vehicle for Academy-Award winner, Eva Marie Saint, who said the role of Mrs. Espenshade was one of her all-time favorites. The play was filmed for PBS’ Hollywood Television Theater that year, and featured an interview with Princess Grace Kelly, who discussed her uncle’s work.
In a critical biography of playwright George Kelly, author Foster Hirsch calls THE FATAL WEAKNESS “a lovely and gracious swan song…a delight for those attuned to the Kelly pace and tone. This play is the most urbane and gracious achievement of a singular playwright."
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.
George Edward Kelly was born in Schuylkill Falls, Pennsylvania, the seventh child of a remarkable Irish-American family known as the “Philadelphia Kellys.” Starting out as an actor and writer for vaudeville one-acts, Kelly rose to the height of acclaim in the early 1920s, with plays that he both wrote and directed. Kelly followed his breakout 1922 theatrical satire The Torch Bearers with 1924’s The Show-Off (which Heywood Broun called “the best comedy which has yet been written by an American”), as well as his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1925 psychological drama Craig’s Wife.
Although Kelly’s commercial success declined steeply in the 1930s and 1940s, he produced some of his most striking and unconventional plays during these decades, including Philip Goes Forth (1931) and his two satiric dramas of marital infidelity: The Deep Mrs. Sykes (1945) and The Fatal Weakness (1946). Out of sync with sentimental postwar sensibilities, Kelly continued to write a number of unproduced plays as he shifted into semi-retirement with his longtime partner, William E. Weagly.
In recent years, George Kelly has made an emphatic re-entrance upon New York and regional stages, while his “sharply insightful” (The New York Sun) plays of middle-class domestic life have also invited critical rediscovery. Once “allowed to pass unremarked” (as Mary McCarthy noted in a 1947 essay) as a significant American playwright, Kelly returns to delight, provoke and surprise new audiences.
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ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, CUNY QUEENS COLLEGE
- Saturday, August 23, after the matinee
- Professor Celello studies the history of marriage and divorce in the twentieth-century United States, as well as single parenting in U.S. history. She earned her PhD in history from the University of Virginia in 2004. In 2006, she was a post-doctoral fellow at Emory University Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life. She is the author of Making Marriage Work: A History of Marriage and Divorce in the Twentieth-Century United States and is currently co-editing a volume titled Domestic Tensions, National Anxieties: Global Perspectives on Marriage Crisis. Professor Celello will discuss the play’s portrayal of marital discord from this unique historical perspective.
THEATER HISTORIAN AND DRAMATURG
- Saturday, August 30, 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. She will discuss the life and work of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright George Kelly.
AUTHOR OF BROADWAY: AN ENCYCLOPEDIC GUIDE TO THE HISTORY, PEOPLE, AND PLACES OF TIMES SQUARE
- Sunday, August 31, after the matinee
- Ken Bloom is a New York-based theatre historian, playwright, director, record producer, and author. His book Broadway: An Encyclopedic Guide to the History, People, and Places of Times Square won a prestigious Source Magazine Award and was named one of the top reference books of the year by the New York Times. In collaboration with Frank Vlastnik, Bloom wrote the bestseller, Broadway Musicals: The 101 Greatest Shows of All Time which was awarded the George Freedley Award. Mr. Bloom will discuss George Kelly and the commercial American theatre of the 1940s—the decade in which THE FATAL WEAKNESS was first produced.
JOHN M. CLUM
PROFESSOR EMERITUS, DUKE UNIVERSITY
- Sunday, September 7, after the matinee
- Professor John Clum works in the fields of twentieth century American and British drama and American film with an emphasis on gay male theater and film. He has written multiple books, as well as essays on Tennessee Williams, Sam Shepard, and Edward Albee for the Cambridge Companions to these authors’ words. His other essays have appeared in Modern Drama, South Atlantic Quarterly and Theater Journal. His book The Drama of Marriage: Gay Playwrights/Straight Unions from Oscar Wilde to the Present—which discusses the historic tradition of gay dramatists writing about heterosexual relationships for the commercial theater—includes a chapter on George Kelly and THE FATAL WEAKNESS.
- Cliff Bemis
- Margaret Daly
- Kristin Griffith
- Sean Patrick Hopkins
- Patricia Kilgarriff
- Victoria Mack
- Director Jesse Marchese
- Sets Vicki R. Davis
- Costumes Andrea Varga
- Lights Christian Deangelis
- Original Music & Sound Jane Shaw
- Props Joshua Yocom
- Casting Judy Bowman
- Production Stage Manager Rhonda Picou
- Assistant Stage Manager Arthur Atkinson
- Illustration Stefano Imbert
- Graphics Hey Jude Design, Inc.
- Advertising The Pekoe Group
- Press David Gersten & Associates