Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Fatal Weakness

If there is a theatrical heaven whence long-deceased playwrights can watch their work, then I'm certain that George Kelly is thrilled with The Mint's new production of his fascinating play, The Fatal Weakness, elegantly directed by Jesse Marchese. And I imagine he is particularly delighted with Kristin Griffith's wryly subtle performance as Mrs. Ollie Espenshade, a woman who discovers that she has been taking her marriage, her husband, and herself for granted. Griffith has an astonishing ability to simultaneously hide and reveal her emotions, just as she can be simultaneously heartbreaking and funny. Add to that her crack timing and superb listening skills, and the result is one heck of a performance.

Kristin Griffith, Cynthia Darlow
Photo: Richard Termine

The Fatal Weakness takes place in the Espenshade apartment, smartly and attractively designed by Vicki R. Davis. (Andrea Varga's costumes are similarly effective and attractive.) Ollie has received an anonymous letter informing her that her husband is cheating on her. At this point, the experienced theatre-goer would be forgiven for assuming that she could write the rest of the play herself, but the experienced theatre-goer would be wrong. From this very familiar beginning, Kelly goes some unusual places. Although The Fatal Weakness resembles a drawing room comedy, and is genuinely funny, it is something else entirely: a meaningful examination of what happens when people's realities come up against their expectations.

Supporting Griffith, the rest of the cast is also quite good. In particular, Cynthia Darlow does a wonderful job as Ollie's loyal and cynical best friend Mabel. After the show, my friend said about her, "Thelma Ritter." There is no higher compliment.

And what brings everything together is Jesse Marchese's superb direction. Marchese takes care of the nuts and bolts beautifully--the blocking has meaning, the pacing enhances the play, and the story and themes come across clearly and cleanly. (It always feels slightly weird to compliment a director on achieving Direction 101, but so many don't! I never take it for granted.) On top of that, he has led his cast to multidimensional and real performances. The result is a production that manages to feel absolutely contemporary while still honoring its time period, that entertains while provoking thought. Bravo to all.

(fifth row, press ticket)

No comments: