SUSAN AND GOD
Last night I took myself to the theater, an Off-Broadway play, entitled, SUSAN AND GOD. I have been purchasing fewer tickets recently than in the past, in my unsuccessful attempts at saving money. So, the question I ask myself is why did I, on a whim, choose to purchase a ticket online for this play? The answer, I believe, is serendipity (I just love that word, how it rolls around the mouth like a magical, revolving, up & down Carousel). I believe that I was meant to see this play.
The play originally opened on 10 April 1937 in Princeton, New Jersey, and moved to New York City, New York on 7 October 1937 where it ran for 288 performances. Gertrude Lawrence played the role of Susan. In 1940 it became a movie with Joan Crawford . The part of Susan in this current production of Susan and God at the Mint Theater , was played by Leslie Hendrix, the tough-talking Medical Examiner, Elizabeth Rogers, in Law & Order and its spin-offs. I suppose seeing Leslie Hendrix, who was one of the few actors in L&O to have been with the show since its inception and one of my favorite parts, was good enough reason in itself to see Susan and God. And, I was right about that.
The plays author was Rachel Crothers (1878-1958)
Having come across this play and this author (Crothers also directed and acted), it amazed and frankly, disturbed me that both SUSAN AND GOD and Rachel Crothers are all but UNKNOWN today. How could that be? Rachel Crothers was a woman of her times. She grew up in the midst of the Women's Suffrage Movement and was 50 years old when women finally got the right to vote. Her plays addressed many women's issues, such as the pull between home life and career, as well as universal issues like the void felt by individuals and society and the consequent searching for a spiritual healing, and a wider search for the Infinite Truth that can answer our fumbling questions and help us to go on believing in Goodness, which many call God. So, why is it that we know of Ms. Crother's contemporaries like Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, but not Rachel Crothers? I have a cynical hunch. Crothers was decidedly not political, which turned off many femisnists of her time. Stein's fame as a writer is closely aligned with her circle of friends (Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway, etc) who happen to be famous men. Rachel Crothers had no such allies. One has to wonder.
Susan And God is a satirical look at a group of friends in the 1930's who were members of the society in which the "ladies lunched" and the "gentlemen golfed" and they all summered at their Newport "cottages", played tennis, followed by martinis and then dressed to the "T" for dinner. Their favorite pastime was gossip. Whoever left the room was grist for the gossip mill. Susan was a member of this group, but not present in the opening scene as she was on her way home from an extended trip to Europe, sans husband. Consequently the animated discussion was all about Susan and her alcoholic husband and their "funny looking" daughter, who spent 6 months of the year at boarding school and the other 6 months at camp. Then, in walks Susan, well no she doesn't "walk" in, she prances in, she "breezes" in, with her silky flowing red dress and matching red hat. Before she could even take her hat off, Susan explodes with enthusiasm about her new found mission to rouse her friends to the realization of the dynamic power of goodness, God, that she has learned about from her new found friend and mentor, Lady Wiggams the leader of this wondrous spiritual movement. Crothers, in writing this, was lightly satirizing a then-trendy spiritual movement called the Oxford Group. It is interesting to note that the Oxford Group was a real religious movement of the 1920's and 30's and was the inspiration for the foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Anyway, back to Susan. It becomes quickly, humorously and decidedly clear that she is more than a tad selfish, self-serving and self-righteous. But, as she enthusiastically and vigorously assures her friends, she has changed! We see with humor and pathos that notwithstanding her sincere belief that she has found God, Susan remains the self-serving socialite that she is and she continues to expect and to receive her own way. Her always faithful, but not always functional, husband seems to believe what Susan is espousing and makes a deal with her that if she stays the summer with him and their daughter, he will stop drinking and if he doesn't, he will grant her the divorce she has been seeking against his will. Despite herself, Susan agrees.
It is the end of the play that spoke most directly to me and my sensibilities. We are led to believe that due to circumstances, Susan's husband goes off the wagon and may have taken up with a single woman in their group. Believing this to be true, Susan becomes jealous and though a few moments before, she had been ready to throw Barrie (the husband) away, she now has second thoughts. It may have seemed too easy to some viewers that Susan has this change of heart, but as I watched the scene unfold, it did not occur to me that her transition was anything but real. Barrie explains his appreciation of Charlotte (the other woman) but, does he love her, no, he loves Susan. In the end, it is the potential of Susan's redemption that we see and the sensitivity with which this was portrayed touched me deeply. Unfortunately, it was Susan's final line of the play that I wanted to quote here. Somehow for me, that line said it all. I have been searching for it in my minds memory, as well as online, but alas, I cannot find it. Perhaps I will write the theater and ask them if they would send it to me.
I did send an email to the Artistic Director of the MINT THEATER COMPANY, Jonathan Bank and not only did he provide me with the last line of the play, but he sent me the entire script. That is the kind of thing that restores my faith in people. THANK YOU JONATHAN!!
Last scene in play, Susan And God.... Susan says to husband, Barrie,
"Oh dearest - I don't think God is something out there - to pray to. - I think he's here - in us. And, I don't believe he helps one bit - till we dig and dig and dig - to get the rottenness out of us......Barrie - hold me.
(She sinks against Barrie - he puts his arms about her - holding her close.)
OH, DEAR GOD - DON'T LET ME FALL DOWN AGAIN!"
As I've said before, the power of theater is formidable and I am forever grateful to be a part of it, if only in the audience.
Post Script II
If you read the comments on this post below, you will see the first one is from "Anonymous" and relates this final speech of Susan's in the play. Yeah, it seems that "Susan" herself heard about my query and responded. Now, how very cool is that!!!