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Susan Gets Religion and the Mint Gets it Right
"Susan and God"
Directed by Jonathan Bank
Mint Theater Company
311 West 43rd St., 3rd Floor
Opened June 18, 2006
Tues., Wed, Thurs 7 p.m., Fri & Sat. 8 p.m., matinees Sat. & Sun. 2 p.m.
$45 (212) 315-0231 or www.minttheater.org
Closes July 16, 2006
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons June 20, 2006
Leslie Hendrix (Susan) and Timothy Deenihan (Barrie) in "Susan and God." Photo by Richard Termine.
Whether they're Moonies, Jews for Jesus or reformed alcoholics, people who have seen God and achieved enlightenment are a pain in the ass to those who are the victims of their self-righteous preaching. Even more infuriating, often these same people have little insight or remorse when it comes to their own failures.
In the 1937 comedy "Susan and God," now in revival at the Mint Theater, Rachel Crothers satirizes the Oxford Movement, popular in the 20s and 30s and the inspiration for evangelical soirees of the time, as well as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Although "Susan and God" is almost seventy years old, the Mint Theater's revival under the lively direction of the company's artistic director, Jonathan Bank, is as fresh and pertinent as if it had been written yesterday.
The play gets off to a slow start, as Susan's long-time friends set the back story. Although such exposition might have been the convention when the play was written, to modern audiences it seems unnecessary and tedious. However, once Susan enters and begins dispensing advice, the play takes off.
The plot centers on Susan Trexel (Leslie Hendrix), who is converted to some new religious movement formulated by a person known only as Lady Wigham. Susan returns from Paris, not with perfume and the latest fashions, but with a desire to "give, give, give." What she wants to bestow on her old friends is "love, love, love." This love, however, does not extend to her alcoholic husband, Barrie (Timothy Deenihan), whom she (not without some justification) wants to divorce, nor to her awkward, adolescent daughter, Blossom (the excellent Jennifer Blood), whose year is divided between boarding school and the residential camp she hates.
Although Irene (Opal Alladin) does not at first take kindly to Susan's advice that she leave her lover and prospective third husband, Mike (Al Sapienza); and former actress Leonora (Jordan Simmons) does not believe Susan when she says that Leonora is still in love with Clyde (Alex Cranmer) and will not be happy with her new husband, Stubbie (Anthony Newfield), Barrie takes Susan at her word and asks her to let him share in her new-found faith and give him a chance to reform.
Reluctantly, Susan strikes a deal that may lead to their eventual reuniting. Susan agrees to live with Barrie and Blossom at their home for the entire summer, under the condition that he will lay off the bottle. The question is now whether he can stick to his promise and whether she will live up to the agreement.
Gertrude Lawrence played Susan in the Broadway show and Joan Crawford took the role in the 1940 film. These are hard acts to follow, but Hendrix, who may be best known to most as Medical Examiner Rodgers on NBC's "Law and Order," comes onstage like a light breeze and ends up stirring the waters in all the right ways.
Deenihan's I contribution is quieter but just as effective. His drunk is perfectly believable and he never gives in to the temptation of resorting to camp or caricature to enhance his role.
Scenic designer Nathan Heverin has created a lovely set, complete with a wrap-around mural of a garden. And Clint Ramos's costumes fit elegantly into the setting.
"Susan and God" concludes the Mint Theater Company's season dedicated to neglected plays by American women. Although Crothers' play was certainly not neglected (it ran for 288 performances, in 1938 selections from the play were the first dramatic scenes broadcast on television, and in 1943 the play was chose to open City Center, with Gertrude Lawrence reprising her role), it certainly has not received the kind of attention accorded classics by the likes of Thornton Wilder or Tennessee Williams.
"Susan and God" will never become an American classic like "Our Town" or "The Glass Menagerie." But the Mint's revival shows that a reexamination of many lesser-known plays is long overdue.
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