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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.

The Fatal Weakness
Mint Theater   June 2021

New York's Mint Theater is devoted to rediscovering “lost” plays from the first half of the Twentieth Century. But every once in a while their revival merely shows why the play was lost in the first place.

George Kelly was a popular Broadway playwright of the 1930s, equally adept at satiric comedy (The Show-Off) and psychological melodrama (Craig's Wife). But in his last produced play (1946) he seems to have been unsure which mode he wanted, and this 2014 Mint production seems equally uncertain in tone.

A well-off woman married 26 years is told her husband is cheating on her. With methodic calm she sets about getting the story confirmed and then arranging the divorce, while saving her daughter's troubled marriage almost in passing.

Nobody seems hurt much or all that bothered by the adventure, and the woman ends the play exactly where she began it, indulging in her hobby of gate-crashing other people's weddings.

I spent the first act seriously disliking Kristin Griffith's performance in the central role, because Kelly was writing in a perfectly adequate imitation of Noel Coward's brittle wit and Griffith seemed to be missing every chance to punch up a zinger or get a laugh with an arched eyebrow.

Minute after minute I saw what an actress with a sense of comic style – Diana Rigg, say, or Felicity Kendal, or Penelope Keith, or Phoebe Waller-Bridge – could have done with this line or that reaction.

And then I realised that it wasn't the actress's fault. She was just following orders, and director Jesse Marchese had for some reason decided to suppress all the wit and humour in the writing.

(The director didn't completely succeed, of course, and Kristin Griffith gets an occasional laugh. Playing a gossip-loving friend who enlists a network of fellow busybodies to be the heroine's spies and detectives, Cynthia Darlow can't disguise the fact that hers is a comic character, while Patricia Kilgarriff as a tut-tutting maid gets laughs by default by being the only one who plays for them.)

There is nothing inherently wrong with choosing to play The Fatal Weakness as melodrama, except that the playwright gives the director very little to work with.

It is central to the main character as written that she is fairly shallow and not particularly upset by the end of her marriage, and her coolness does not invite sympathy or concern. (In a real sense, if she doesn't care, why should we?)

The Fatal Weakness is not a bad play. It's just one that desperately needs a charismatic and stylish star at its centre and a director able to give it a controlling tone.

The multi-camera video recording is excellent, though the sound is occasionally uneven.

Gerald Berkowitz

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