George Kelly was a playwright of some renown in the early part of the last century. Over the course of 1920s and '30s, he had nine plays on Broadway, most notably The Show Off and his 1925 Pulitzer Prize winner, Craig's Wife. Kelly's status gradually diminished over the years; by this point in time, he's faded so far into obscurity that his name isn't even recognizable. Off-Broadway's Mint Theater, a company dedicated to the preservation of rarely seen plays, has taken it upon itself to bring Kelly back into the spotlight. After a 2013 revival of his play Philip Goes Forth, they're returning to his canon with a production of his 1947 Broadway swan song, The Fatal Weakness, which hasn't seen a major New York production since the 1970s.
The title refers to the incurable romanticism within Mrs. Ollie Espenshade (Kristin Griffith), a society woman whose idea of a delightful afternoon is to attend a stranger's wedding. But Ollie has seemed to miss that her husband of a great many years, Mr. Paul Espenshade (Cliff Bemis), has not only fallen out of love with her, but is planning to marry someone else. This she learns from three people: her gossipy best friend Mabel (Cynthia Darlow), her son-in-law Vernon (Sean Patrick Hopkins) and, eventually, her daughter Penny (Victoria Mack).
As written, this wisp of a plot is carried out over the course of three acts, and director Jesse Marchese's production isn't quite firing on all cylinders. Everyone on stage suffers from the same recognizable flaw: They're talking at each other but not listening. The actors are merely reciting dialogue opposed to having a natural conversation. We do see what they're capable of when, toward the end of the third act, there is genuine emotion on stage as Ollie says something unexpectedly vicious to Penny. The small change in Mack's facial expression tells us all that we've been wondering for the past two and a half hours about Penny's relationship with her mother.
Vicki R. Davis' set is a veritable hall of silver reflective panels and Christian DeAngelis' heavy-handed lighting dims from parlor-room yellow to romantic pink to signify the arrival of long, flowery monologues at the end of each act. The costumes, by Andrea Varga, fit the bill in their attractiveness and definition of the 1940s period of dress.
In the end, it's tough to make an investment into characters when you're unsure of their motivations, and the vaguely defined roles in Kelly's script don't make it easy on these performers. Perhaps this is the fatal weakness of The Fatal Weakness.