Story: Susan Chester enjoys a tranquil existence in a village removed from the hustle and bustle of London. She is divorced and has one child, a son named Simon who has moved to the big city, where he shares a flat with an Egyptian student named Jemal. They’re just friends splitting expenses, Susan informs us, lest we jump to any wrong conclusions. She hopes that the rudderless Simon will soon find his calling in London and establish a career.
Her days consist of caring for her two dogs, gardening and whatnot, as well as savoring an ever-present drink of choice. She enjoys gatherings with her friends from church, even though she considers herself an upper-class sort who endures the gossip and silliness engaged in by some in her social circle. She tells us that her ex-husband Colin was a scoundrel who still has the audacity to ask for money now and then.
Susan has been asked to participate in a community theater production of The Killing of Sister George by a director who has plied his craft in London. It’s a daunting challenge but she is up to the task, even if it means spending time with Jill, a casual friend who drinks entirely too much. Since Susan’s best friend Elaine is dealing with an unfaithful husband and has taken up Buddhism as a sanctuary from her troubles, Susan finds herself spending more time with Jill or the next-door neighbor Louise, a social worker.
Her serene if uneventful life, though, changes dramatically when the police arrive at Susan’s door in the middle of the night and ransack the place for evidence. There’s been a terrorist attack in London and the impressionable Simon, it appears, has fallen in with the wrong people. Susan is stunned not only by the turn of events but by their ugly repercussions, both in London and here in her quiet little village.
Highlights: Inevitable Theatre Company makes an auspicious debut in St. Louis with a touching and revelatory performance by Donna Weinsting in this affecting, one-character drama.
Other Info: Stewart Permutt’s 80-minute, one-act play from 2003 is a sobering character study that focuses on words spoken by its sole character which carefully reveal subtle hints about her shields against unwelcome intrusions of life into her insular world. Her dialogue reveals all too well to an audience what Susan won’t admit, much less acknowledge, about her son’s sexual leanings as well as his unstable mental condition.
Weinsting expertly depicts how the shallow Susan has built walls around her own psyche to protect herself from news she doesn’t want to hear. Under artistic director Robert Neblett’s insightful and precise direction, she carefully selects her words before speaking, as if she’s reconciling any potential problems in Susan's mind before letting us in on her thoughts.
Bruce Bergner’s production design is built around a living room filled with comfortable furniture and an array of photos, including Susan’s dogs and a picture of her ex-husband as well as a photograph of Simon given prominent location on a side table next to the sofa and chair. Lighting designer John ‘JT’ Taylor paints the room with swaths of sunlight in some scenes or sobering shadows of darkness in others, while costumer Christina Sittser dresses Susan in handsome clothes more suitable for socializing than for home attire to align with the character’s view of her own ‘elevated’ status.
Unsuspecting Susan is a quiet, tender play for which Weinsting puts her considerable skills to excellent use. She paints a memorable portrait of a lady who has lived life superficially, a woman who puts all of her energy into keeping unpleasant thoughts or realities at bay, regardless of the steep cost she ultimately has to pay.
The work’s title says it all, and Inevitable Theatre’s presentation brings out its pathos and sadness with Weinsting’s haunting performance.
Play: Unsuspecting Susan
Company: Inevitable Theatre Company
Venue: The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive
Dates: September 21, 22, 23, 28, 29, 30
Tickets: $15-$25; contact 314-534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Inevitable Theatre Company