September 16, 2014

Sometimes a play is more interesting in the future than in its own time. “The Fatal Weakness,” a domestic comedy with a drama at its core, was apparently unloved in its day; its 1946 Broadway premiere ran for only 119 performances despite having Ina Claire, a prominent stage actress, in the lead role. But here in 2014, the Mint Theater Company is making this George Kelly work an amusing, affecting reminder that the institution of marriage has been under siege for much longer than we tend to think.

Kristin Griffith channels Katharine Hepburn as she brings to life the skittish central character, Ollie Espenshade. Ollie is a bundle of upper-middle-class nerves in a daffy opening scene in which she and a confidante, Mabel (Cynthia Darlow), review the evidence that Ollie’s affable husband, Paul (Cliff Bemis), might be having an affair.

Today Ollie would fit into any reality TV show with “Housewives” in the title. The couple’s daughter, Penny (Victoria Mack), might be the creator of another breed of reality show, the kind that exploits alternate forms of courtship (“Naked Dating”) and couplehood (“Sister Wives”). With marital issues of her own, Penny spouts unorthodox theories on love, marriage and child-rearing that remind us the questioning of male-female dynamics did not begin in our time or even with Gloria Steinem.

This is an old-fashioned two-intermission play, but the director, Jesse Marchese, keeps it brisk, and Ms. Griffith, Ms. Darlow and Mr. Bemis conjure characters who are never less than good company. The play may have asked too much of its original audience. For most of the way, it’s a harmless comedy that seems destined to reveal Ollie’s suspicions as a mere misunderstanding. But that is not how the story turns out at all.

“Mr. Kelly’s final solutions are positively gruesome,” Brooks Atkinson wrote in his review in The New York Times in 1946. Today, though, Kelly’s refusal to take the easy way out seems as if it anticipated the coming cynical age.