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Boston's distinguished elite, including ex-Governor James M. Curley, last night noisily applauded (and noisily repeated jokes to deaf companions) as John Holden presented Gertrude Lawrence in the gay, smooth-running comedy "Susan and God" at the Shubert Theatre.
Although it calls for a woman of charm and wit, Miss Lawrence's role at the same time portrays selfishness, conceit, superficiality, self-consciousness and scarcely an ounce of sincerity. That she can play such a part and still hold her audience entranced is a tribute to the debonair Lawrence of England. Her precise timing, her walk, her little habit of patting her bosom and her clothes (by Hattic Carnegie) all contribute to the ensemble, but Miss Lawrence achieves most of her effect with her voice. Like none which she has used in the past, it ranges from the affected, hysterical gaiety of Fontaine to the throaty rasp of Blanche Calloway, and a mischievous drawl at the end of each sentence mocks her own words.
God does not appear. Not satirizing but seriously analyzing the shortcomings of the Oxford Group, author-director Rachel Crothers has let her characters speak flippantly of God without allowing her play to be in any way flippant. The play rails at houseparties, confessions, dowagers, the substitution of "spiritual" for "physical" love and the superficiality which often characterizes the Group. But at its objective attempts to smooth out human relations Miss Crothers does not laugh she merely disagrees.
Susan, a scatterbrained convert bubbling over with the Message, begins in the first act to meddle with the complex and questionable lives of her ultimately succeeding in running three of them. Convinced, after someone has made a joking confession, that she has the knack of conversion, Susan also sets about to rescue her estranged husband (Paul McGrath) from drink and to win the love of her daughter (Nancy Coleman,) The trio, without the aid of God, finally work out their problems and unite around a happy hearth. For the plausibility of this ending Miss Coleman, replacing, Nancy Kelly as the innocent daughter, is largely responsible, Mr. McGrath brings humor and sincerity to a small but important role. The rest of the cast is subordinated to Miss Lawrence for most of the play, but in the more serious third act Natalie Schafer and Charlotte Marley turn in sound performances. Fast-moving throughout, the play is at once hilarious and thought-provoking. It is 'hard' to ask for more.
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