The Oxford Movement was the 1930s equivalent of our time’s neocon fundamentalism: Its mostly upper-middle-class adherents found God in their hearts, publicly confessed their sins (the personal ones, of course, not those against the proletariat), and preached Love. Blurred remnants of it still survive, since one of its breakaway adherents founded AA, making Oxford the granddaddy of all 12-step programs. And of course, God survives, especially in America, where, as the great drama critic James Agate once observed, “Moral Uplift goes hand in hand with a sentimentality that would make a rhinoceros vomit.”
All of which amply justifies the Mint Theater’s decision to revive Susan and God (1937), a gratifyingly unsentimental comedy, by the too often overlooked Rachel Crothers (1878–1958), that pours plenty of satirical acid rain on its heroine, a social butterfly whose impulse to lead her country club set to the true faith involves meddling with her friends’ love lives, but not facing responsibilities like her neglected teenage daughter or her incipiently alcoholic husband. Forced to live up to her own platitudes, Susan goes through a high-comedy dark night of the soul that must try the Deity’s patience almost as much as it does hers.
Droll rather than stinging, Crothers’s romp is a salutary reminder that, back in the day, even bittersweet candy was made from organic ingredients. It requires a kind of playful delight in performing that director Jonathan Bank’s mild-mannered, largely earnest cast can’t quite muster. Leslie Hendrix tackles the title role (not God, the other one) with tremendous resource and high style, but the sparkle the enterprise needs is sadly absent.