nytheatre.com review by Gyda Arber
June 15, 2005
As a rule, I rarely come across a one-person show that holds my interest from the opening moment to the last, and I seldom find one that actually entertains me. Unsuspecting Susan does both, despite the play’s complete lack of action on stage. The credit for this feat can firmly be given to the star of the show, Celia Imrie, who wins us over with humor in the beginning and keeps our interest as events take a sudden, sharp turn into dark territory.
The play focuses on Susan Chester, a well-to-do older woman, living alone in the home she inherited from her parents. Her life’s focus, aside from gossiping about the neighbors, is clearly her estranged son. Simon, we quickly learn, has suffered from mental problems his entire life. As Susan expresses her hope for him as she relates his current prospects, living with a roommate in London, it’s clear to the audience that something is wrong, but through Susan’s eyes, it’s hard to see what. It turns out Simon has (unwittingly?) taken up with terrorists, and after they hatch their plot, Susan is left to attempt to cope with the consequences.
In our post-9/11 world, the play’s dark turn forces us to think of terrorism in a different way. Instead of the typical path of exploring the stories of the victims or the survivors, playwright Stewart Permutt chooses to focus on Susan’s unusual plight—her relationship to Simon causes those around her to associate her with terrorist acts, despite her complete lack of participation in them. Imrie presents Susan as entirely self-deluded, which makes her transformation throughout the play even more chilling. Director Lisa Forrell wisely gets out of Imrie’s way, letting the stage veteran shine. Designer Nigel Hook’s compact and carefully executed set elegantly enhances Imrie’s characterization.
Unsuspecting Susan is a compelling addition to the Brits Off Broadway festival, a relatively new addition to New York’s growing summer festival scene. If the other plays in the festival are of this caliber, New Yorkers have yet another worthy theatre festival to consider each summer, and another air-conditioned place to escape to on those hot summer nights.