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Susan and God

The Mint's style-free production of Rachel Crothers' 1937 comedy is no way to treat a lady. logo
Timothy Deenihan and Leslie Hendrix in Susan and God
(Photo © Richard Termine)
Explaining in a New York Times article why she came to write her widely acclaimed play Susan and God, Rachel Crothers noted: "At home and afar there seemed more hate in the world than ever before, more disappointment in ourselves and in the men we have chosen to lead us, more crumbling of ideals and faith, more capitulation of good to evil." While those words could have been written today -- and not in 1937 -- the comic drama, now revived by the estimable Mint Theater Company, has not passed the test of time with flying colors. Instead, it's taken time's test and been handed a C-.

The problem isn't just the play, which might have been made to look a bit smart, considering Crothers' skill at reporting accurately the look and sound of the upper classes as the world blithely sashayed towards World War II. Equally at fault -- perhaps more so -- is Jonathan Bank's production, which, not to put too fine a point on it, lacks any style whatsoever. And style and fine points are what Susan and God must have had by the Rolls Royce trunkful when it bowed nearly 70 years ago, starring Gertrude Lawrence in the title role. She was idolized on two continents for bringing the highest of styles to the stage whenever she wafted on, and it would take that kind of impermeable charm to make this otherwise unlikable, obtuse character at all palatable.

Susan Trexel (Leslie Hendrix) is the worst kind of society dilettante, a tornado completely unaware of the destruction she leaves in her wake. Although her own marriage to alcoholic Barrie (Timothy Deenihan) is in hot water and her relationsip with daughter Blossom (Jennifer Blood) is tepid, she returns from a trip abroad having found God and wanting to share His benevolence with her friends. Though the horsey, anyone-for-tennis set relaxing at the luxurious home of Irene Burroughs (Opal Alladin) are resistant to Susan's cotton-headed blandishments, Barrie thinks he sees in her blather the possibility of rekindling their love, so he convinces Susan to open their practically abandoned nearby home for a trial summer. It takes Susan all three summer months to reach her conclusion about the future, a decision that is complicated by what she thinks is the sobered-up Barrie's idyll with level-headed Charlotte Marley (Katie Firth).

Despite Susan's foolishness, her friends -- the newly wed Hutchins Stubbs (Anthony Newfield) and Leonora Stubbs (Jordan Simmons), Irene's fiancé Michael O'Hara (Al Sapienza), and the ill-at-ease actor Clyde Rochester (Alex Cranmer) -- all put up with her. Their loyalty is an instance of extreme slack-cutting that might have made sense if someone like the fabled Lawrence were spinning dizzy circles around them, but such devotion doesn't compute here because of Hendrix's puzzling performance. (Equally puzzling is Nathan Heverin's set, which includes a panorama of sky and trees into which doors are fitted. Apparently, the intention was to suggest indoors and outdoors simultaneously.)

Known to TV viewers as Dr. Elizabeth Rodgers, the matter-of-fact medical examiner on Law & Order, Hendrix is not matter-of-fact at all in this role; instead, she's quite blatantly channelling Katharine Hepburn. Crowned by an unfortunate, floppy-tressed wig -- Seth Bodie is the hair culprit -- she swans around the wicker furniture and grand piano as if trying to impersonate Kate the Great during that period in the 1930s when the actress was beginning to be vilified as "box-office poison." The out-of-whack portrayal does nothing to make this revival vital.

Susan and God concludes the Mint's 2005-2006 season, which was dedicated to recognizing forgotten American women dramatists who, moreover, wanted to scrutinize the forgotten or misunderstood American woman. It was a worthy goal, but this production is no way to treat a lady.

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