Susan cavorts with a jovial, privileged, somewhat cavalier set of friends. When she returns from a trip to Europe, extolling a spiritual epiphany, her friends roll their eyes. Susan has met a member of the British aristocracy at a party. This woman has started a movement, embracing unconditional love and unblinking honesty. It’s not that Susan’s friends question her sincerity. They perceive her as sweet, impulsive, but a bit eccentric and flighty. When Susan leaps into her crusade of direct (if non-judgmental) frankness, they are perplexed by her disingenuousness. Susan doesn’t seem to understand you just can’t just go around blabbing the truth, with no regard for fallout. Neither does she seem to realize that some secrets simply aren’t hers to tell.
Playwright Rachel Crothers has forged an intriguing, unorthodox, intelligent script that takes awhile to help us find our bearings. Crothers prompts our attention and participation. She gives us just enough information to tantalize, while we process infidelities, quirks, disappointments and barely bandaged wounds that plague Susan and her throng of close friends. Barrie (Susan’s estranged husband and recovering alcoholic) has shown up uninvited, and they take elaborate measures to avoid messy collisions. At first curtain, we see Blossom, Susan and Barrie’s little girl, silently playing with a dollhouse, tiptoeing and listening in on conversations. She’s not underhanded as much as curious and absorbed. Susan and God (also a film with Joan Crawford) was written and set in a time when children were told as little as possible. Even when it was information they needed.
Like any number of shows (The Vibrator Play, Who is Sylvia?, Detroit) Susan and God begins comically, but gradually turns a corner. Crothers explores the nature of acting responsibly while submerged in the realm of tacit duplicity. She contrasts Blossom’s childlike aching for harmony with the grown-up insistence that some situations make it impossible. There is a strong suggestion that Blossom is God, whimsically throwing humans together in untenable situations (thus the dolls). But as we see how wedded adults are to deception and avoidance, these tactics don’t feel quite so haphazard. And while yes. Susan doesn’t understand how wrenching it is to face tawdry, selfish instincts, she does have her excruciating moment. And she owns it.
Under the smooth, keen, meticulous orchestration of Lisa Devine, Susan and God is consistently beguiling, warm, funny and perceptive. The actors have a blissfully natural demeanor, wielding erudition and skepticism with poise and conviviality. Noteworthy performances include: Jovane Caamano (Clyde) Vanessa DeSilvio (Irene) Ashley Wood (Barrie) Catherine DuBord (Susan) and Maya Pearson (Blossom).
Susan and God plays Theatre 3 from April 20th-may 14th, 2017. 2800 Routh Street, The Quadrangle, Suite 168, Dallas, Texas 75201. 214-871-3300. www.theatre3dallas.com