You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Unsuspecting Susan

Brit thesp Celia Imrie makes her U.S. stage debut as a well-heeled small-town Englishwoman whose fragile peace of mind crumbles when her son becomes the prime suspect in the suicide bombing of a Jewish restaurant in London. Imrie gives an affecting, tempered portrayal of "Unsuspecting Susan" in Stewart Permutt's darkly comic work.

Susan - Celia Imrie Policeman - Gus Danowski Policewoman - Frankie Shaw

Brit thesp Celia Imrie (“Calendar Girls”) makes her U.S. stage debut as a well-heeled small-town Englishwoman whose fragile peace of mind crumbles when her son becomes the prime suspect in the suicide bombing of a Jewish restaurant in London. Imrie gives an affecting, tempered portrayal of “Unsuspecting Susan” in Stewart Permutt’s darkly comic work, whose structural parameters can’t wholly provide for the complexity of the distressing, present-day subject matter.

In a pleated skirt and pearls, mild-mannered Susan fills us in on the daily players and gossip in her village life. But what quickly emerges as the dishiest dirt and her most consuming preoccupation is the psychological instability of son Simon, now in his early 30s and living in London with an Egyptian roommate.

Susan’s speedy singsong delivery and the script’s shuffle between Simon’s premorbid despair and the goings-on of his mother’s drama club, barely pausing for breath, clue us in to the woman’s denial, as well as the deep well of her loneliness and loss.

As the plot thickens, we watch with regret as sirens blare and two nonspeaking police officers ransack Susan’s house, leaving her with the material remains of Simon’s childhood in three boxes marked “evidence.” We feel for Susan as she is thrust into a governmental terror investigation, neighbors turn on her and her house is vandalized. But the issues explored are too intricate and diffuse to be handled in this purely narrative structure. The heart-racing, pulse-jumping, visceral reactions called for here never fully materialize.

Because of Susan’s apparent composure and very British method of coping, it is easy to miss some of the important clues laid out as to where the play is headed — or more importantly, the weight of her son’s past and her pain. Director Lisa Forrell would have been wise to explore other avenues to expose Susan’s fragility, beyond language, perhaps through physicality. In addition, the glaring scene transitions call more attention to themselves than they should and feel either invasive or awkwardly abrupt.

Imrie paints a believable psychological portrait of a woman who, after a lifetime of living an intentionally small and sheltered existence (“I try to avoid London these days. … You wouldn’t believe the people I saw in Harrods last time I went. As mummy would say, ‘Strictly NQOCD’ … Not Quite Our Class, Darling.”) is forced into a personal nightmare exemplifying the mind-boggling perils of today’s world.

his subject matter might have been more successfully realized with other flesh-and-blood characters: with portrayals of Simon, who we find out converted to Islam; the well-groomed, polite Jamal, Simon’s roommate; and Susan’s fellow villagers, with their different reactions to her tragedy.

This horrifying scenario is rich and relevant territory for a playwright to mine by exploring possible explanations to the questions raised here — from the profoundly insular to the broadly political — but in this case both Susan and the audience are left suspended and begging for more.

Unsuspecting Susan

59E59; 99 seats; $35 top

Production: A Harold Sanditen presentation for Sandpiper Theater Prods. of a play in one act by Stewart Permutt. Directed by Lisa Forrell.

Creative: Sets, Nigel Hook; lighting, David W. Kidd; music and sound, Edmund Butt; production stage manager; Terri K. Kohler. Opened June 19, 2005. Reviewed June 15. Running time: 1 HOUR.

Cast: Susan - Celia Imrie Policeman - Gus Danowski Policewoman - Frankie Shaw

More Legit

  • Bryan Cranston First Time in Variety

    Bryan Cranston on His Early Roles, Dealing With Rejection and His 'Erasable Mind'

    Following his 2014 Tony Award for best actor as President Lyndon B. Johnson in Robert Schenkkan’s play “All the Way,” Bryan Cranston is looking to add to his trophy collection this year with his performance as Howard Beale in “Network.” The deranged anchorman — who’s famously “mad as hell and not going to take this [...]

  • Ink Play West End London

    Wary Theater Rivalry Between London and New York Gives Way to a Boom in Crossovers

    Give or take a little tectonic shift, the distance between London and New York still stands at 3,465 miles. Arguably, though, the two theater capitals have never been closer. It’s not just the nine productions playing in duplicate in both locations — believed to be the most ever — with three more expected in the [...]

  • Alex Brightman Beetlejuice Broadway

    How Alex Brightman Brought a Pansexual Beetlejuice to Life on Broadway

    Alex Brightman gives the deadliest performance on Broadway — in a good way — in “Beetlejuice.” The big-budget musical adaptation of the 1988 film directed by Tim Burton has scored eight Tony nominations, including best actor. To play the frisky role, Brightman (“School of Rock”) dons Beetlejuice’s striped suit and an assortment of colorful wigs [...]

  • Santino Fontana Tootsie Broadway Illustration

    'Tootsie' Star Santino Fontana on the Challenges of His Tony-Nominated Dual Role

    Santino Fontana is doing double duty on Broadway this year. The “Tootsie” star scored his second Tony Award nomination this month for his hilarious portrayal of struggling actor Michael Dorsey and Dorothy Michaels, the female persona that Dorsey assumes to win a role in a play. The musical, based on the 1982 comedy starring Dustin [...]

  • Dear Evan Hansen

    Broadway Cast Albums Find Fresh Footing With Hip New Sounds, Viral Outreach

    Mixtapes. YouTube videos. Dedicated playlists. Ancillary products. Viral marketing. Epic chart stays. These are things you expect to hear from a record label discussing Cardi B or Beyoncé. Instead, this is the new world of a very old staple, the Broadway original cast recording. Robust stats tell the tale: Atlantic’s “Hamilton” album beat the record [...]

  • Ali Stroker Oklahoma

    Ali Stroker on 'Oklahoma!': 'This Show Doesn’t Follow the Rules and That Is So Who I Am'

    Ali Stroker is no stranger to rewriting history. With her 2015 Broadway debut in “Spring Awakening,” she became the first actor in a wheelchair to perform on the Great White Way. Three years later, she’s back onstage in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” as Ado Annie, the flirtatious local who splits her affections between a resident [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content