Richard and I saw George Kelly’s *The Fatal Weakness* at the Mint Theater with our friends David and John on October 8th. This was the third production we’ve seen by this company - - we saw Kelly’s *Philip Goes Forth* last fall and *London Wall* earlier this year. It’s a lovely little theater (99 seats) on 43rd Street, just west of 8th Avenue, on the 3rd floor of an anonymous office building. Here’s the opening sentence of the Mint’s mission statement: “Mint Theater Company commits to bringing new vitality to worthy but neglected plays.” They do mostly American plays from the 30s and 40s. The productions are always first-class.
The play is about Mrs. Ollie Espenshade, an upper middle class married lady on what I took to be the Upper East Side. She and her husband have been married for twenty-eight years. The play opens with Ollie just having received an anonymous letter, someone telling her that her husband has been stepping out on her with a lady doctor. An osteopath, no less! She’s called her best friend, Mrs. Mabel Wentz, to ask for her help and advice. Mabel enlists a friend who lives near the lady doctor, and they hatch a plan to spy on the husband. The tone of the play, at the start, is light and frothy. I didn’t know whether or not to believe that the husband was really cheating on her. [spoiler alert] It turns out he is, and the tone turns rather serious in the middle of the second act. The couple’s daughter also comes into play, having marital problems of her own, and the daughter’s husband makes a brief appearance. There’s just one more person in the cast of six, the Espenshade’s faithful maid, Anna.
Kristin Griffith gave a spectacular performance as Ollie. Her highbrow way of speaking and gracious use of gesture made me think of Natalie Schaefer, aka Lovey Howell from *Gilligan’s Island*. That’s a good thing, by the way! This is a juicy role for a woman of a certain age - - some nice, light comedy throughout paired with depth and substance. As Richard succinctly put it, she’s got a satisfying dramatic arc. She grows up. Every member of the cast was very good, but special mention should go to Cynthia Darlow as the wacky sidekick. Watching the two of them together was a delight, they were like Lucy and Ethel dropped into a drawing room comedy.
The director did a brilliant job, he kept the pace brisk and expertly handled the shifts in tone. The design was top drawer. Ollie’s costumes charted her development in a clear way: she wore peach for her first three scenes (a peach dressing gown, a peach day dress, and a peach evening dress), then a dark red suit for the scene where she confronts her husband. And then medium blue for the finish. The set blew me away - - mirrored walls, a white fireplace, Dresden figurines, baby’s breath, and a vase of large bright orange ostrich feathers in the corner. It was ghastly high style.