The Proselytizer in the Drawing Room

Susan and God is a stylish comedy about religious obsessiveness.

When clergymen are asked why a beneficent God would allow murder, famine, and disease, they often like to pause thoughtfully before reminding us all that the intentions of the Almighty are a mystery. In Taproot Theatre's new production of Susan and God, it turns out that the mind of Susan, who heaps insult onto injury everywhere she turns, is just as unfathomable.Rachel Crothers' long-lost 1937 play, which deals with a would-be socialite returning to America after an ecumenical conversion abroad, wears surprisingly well. The show also benefits from serendipitous luck in that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and our heroine, Susan Trexel (Lisa Peretti), appear in many ways to be kindred spirits—especially as they embrace a religious code that confers not only salvation but a nagging urge to denigrate nonbelievers. Crothers' rapier-tipped tale also has a basis in reality, since a similar religious sect called the Oxford Group—which eventually gave rise to Alcoholics Anonymous, of all things—did flourish through the '30s. It held that if confession is good for the soul, public confession of the most outrageous transgressions—true or not—could be considered a cosmic colonic.Unfortunately, Susan (played first on Broadway by Gertrude Lawrence, then on screen by Joan Crawford) is a vain, vapid, irresponsible ditz who flits from ideas and people alike with hummingbird precision.Upon her return home, Susan is forced to confront the daughter she's abandoned and a husband she's emotionally emasculated through neglect. But as she slowly rotates from self-centered to self-aware, not a one of her cadre of chatterbox friends is spared. She's the kind of loose cannon whom everyone wants to watch but no one wants to know. Peretti plays her as though she's channeling Cloris Leachman's Phyllis Lindstrom from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Peretti's Susan is a dervish just bright enough to know that if she stops for too long, she's going to hate herself and what she's done to those closest to her. So on she prattles.Though clearly this is Peretti's vehicle, Taproot's supporting cast does the best they can with the business provided them by Crothers' text. Some of Sarah Burch Gordon's costumes are eye-popping in their splendor, and Richard Lorig's set work evokes the Eastern environs of the well-heeled leisure class.One final word of warning: Susan and God has a first act that clocks in at nearly an hour and 20 minutes. And if there were halftime stats, they'd have to report that while neither Susan nor God scored, Susan completely dominated in time on the field.

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