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Unsuspecting Susan
by Stewart Permutt
Directed by Robert Neblett
Inevitable Theatre Company
September 15, 2017

Donna Weinsting
Photo: Inevitable Theatre Company

Inevitable Theatre Company is new to the St. Louis theatre scene, but they aren’t entirely new. The company orginated in Texas but has now relocated to St. Louis, and their first production here is currently running at the Chapel, headlined by celebrated local performer Donna Weinsting. Unsuspecting Susan¬†is an excellent showcase for Weinsting and a promising local debut for this “new” theatre company.

In this one-act, conversational play, Weinsting plays Susan Chester, who lives a comfortable life in Hampshire, England and seems to enjoy talking about it. She has many hobbies and many strong opinions about her interests and her neighbors. She’s heavily involved in her church and the local amateur dramatic society. She likes a good drink, and she’s not shy about talking about her difficult former marriage, her ex-husband, and her troubled son, Simon, who seems to have found a new purpose in life after moving to London. ¬†Susan is affable but also not a little entitled and self-important, and these qualities display themselves more and more as her story continues. The plot gradually builds as the conversation continues and time passes, and we hear more about Susan’s involvement in her community and in a local production of The Killing of Sister George. We also hear more and more about the unseen Simon, and the idea that she’s painting a rosier picture than what is really going on becomes obvious, as do Susan’s own veiled doubts about her ability as a parent, masked always by the air of confidence she insists on projecting. Soon, Susan’s world is turned upside down by devastating news about her son, and we see Susan’s ever-present confidence and sense of entitlement begin to unravel.

I don’t want to say much else about the plot, because the gradual revelations are important to the story, as well as to Susan’s character development. I do want to say, though, how Weinsting’s masterful performance makes this story–already intriguing “on paper”–even more fascinating. She lives and breathes this character and her world that revolves around herself and her own views of the world, until something happens to shatter her perceptions and her confidence. It’s a multi-layered performance from Weinsting, who is able to portray so much in terms of subtext while initially maintaining her self-important air. She makes the audience care about this character who can be difficult to like at times, and her emotional journey through the last third of the play is especially remarkable, as Susan explores issues of friendship, faith, societal perceptions and expectations, her identity as a person and as a parent, and more.

The production values here are impressive, as well, with a well-appointed set and excellent use of music and lighting effects. Kudos to production designer Bruce A. Bergner, lighting designer John “JT” Taylor, and costume and scenic assistant Christina Sittser (who also appears briefly onstage in a non-speaking role) as well as director Robert Neblett for setting and maintaining the mood and tone of this production.

Unsuspecting Susan could also be subtitled “Unsuspecting Audience” in a way, since so much of what happens in this play isn’t apparent at first, and Susan puts on such a good front for such a long time, and while the sense that everything isn’t as it seems becomes more obvious as the play goes on, the sense of devastation is real when the news does break. Sometimes it does seem like it takes a little too much time for the script to get where it’s going, but Weinsting makes that time worth it. This is a challenging, thought-provoking and increasingly timely play. It’s an excellent first St. Louis production for Inevitable Theatre Company, and a tour-de-force for Weinsting.

Inevitable Theatre Company presents Unsuspecting Susan at The Chapel until September 30, 2017.

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