Donna Weinsting delivers a naturally compelling performance as the gossipy 'Unsuspecting Susan'
The Inevitable Theatre Company makes its St. Louis debut with the regional premier of Stewart Permutt's Unsuspecting Susan, a show that starts chatty, conversational, and seemingly aimless but is filled with worries, heartache, and perspective. The show is warm and inviting, but don't get too comfortable, because you can sense there's change coming.
The title character, Susan Chester, played by St. Louis favorite Donna Weinsting with her usual mix of humor, common sense, and relate-ability, is a recent divorcee and the doting mother of her adult son Simon. Comfortably affluent, Susan fills her days with chores like gardening and getting together to visit and gossip with her girlfriends. Though she may have been through some rough times, Susan's current life seems pleasant and relatively free of worry.
With a friendly but conspiratorial tone, Weinsting lets us know who's on the in (her best friend Elaine, even though she's going through a tough bit herself right now) and who's on the out (neighbor Jill, who seems to be drinking more often than not and has trouble managing her sons). We also learn much more about Simon, his troublesome upbringing, and newfound roommate and apartment in the city. Susan worries quite a bit about Simon, and there's clearly something troubling her, though she tries valiantly to brush it off.
That is until the police knock upon her door in the middle of the night and DC Karen, played with the appropriate mix of authority and sympathy by Christina Sittser, informs Susan that her son is deceased and the primary suspect in a recent terrorist bombing. The news tears Susan apart in numerous ways. First, there's the loss of her beloved son. Then the questions and interrogation by the police -- rooting through her house and confiscating every bit of potential evidence. Finally, Susan learns who her real friends are, and whom she can count on for company and comfort as she stumbles through her own feelings and questions.
From the moment the police officer knocks on the door forward, Unsuspecting Susan is taut and moves along at a motivated pace. Weinsting is genuinely convincing and engaging as Susan. She capably and sympathetically wears her conflicted emotions and concerns on her sleeve, even as she pours herself another drink and ponders the changing nature of her friendships. As the story unfolds, her recollections and observations become crystal clear, her questions and fears sharply defined. A conversation that started out as familiar chatter turns dark and deeply introspective.
Unfortunately, the show leading up to this point moves at too slow and measured of a pace; I nearly lost interest in the story. It is also difficult to ascertain if the lengthy pauses and measured movements are planned or a result of nerves. Weinsting generally comes across as assured and confident in her character, but there was a definite sense of uncertainty during the first twenty or so minutes of this show. Though director Robert Neblett undoubtedly constructed the pace to lull us in, it is almost too languid, the hesitant moments just a bit too long. Fortunately, when the pace picks up is does so with clarity and purpose as well as new found energy.
The perspective of the perpetrator's family seldom receives as much attention as the criminal or the victims and their families. Unsuspecting Susan, running through September 30, 2017, provides a window into this experience in an intimate, personal play. Effective and nicely portrayed by Weinsting, if a bit slow out of the gate, the show draws you in then knocks you back a peg as it explores a different aspect of terroristic acts. Inevitable Theatre Company can be proud of their initial offering, and I look forward to the company's next show.