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.

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.

Our production of THE FATAL WEAKNESS was the play’s first New York revival in 68 years. “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,”1 wrote Neil Genzlinger of The New York Times. Terry Teachout of The Wall Street Journal called THE FATAL WEAKNESS “a smart, polished not-quite-comedy about the high price of adultery…As usual at the Mint, the acting and staging are smoothly impeccable, and Vicki R. Davis’s sitting-room set looks like the kind of thing you’d see on Broadway if Broadway still did plays like this.”2

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.

By Maya Cantu



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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.

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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.

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