June 27, 2006

The Mint Theater Company has unearthed a rare gem in its revival of the 1937 comedy “Susan and God” by Rachel Crothers, at one time one of the most respected mainstays of the Broadway stage. It’s a surprisingly up-to-date and, for all its two-and-a-half-hour running time, fast-paced and engaging satire. In contrast to many of her contemporaries, Ms. Crothers specialized in problem plays and social comedies, and in “Susan and God” she combined the two with a voice that remains fresh.

Susan Trexel, a socialite, returns from Europe to her small community of rich and successful friends suddenly fired with the urge to save the world, inspired by a new-fangled religious movement she stumbled across on her visit to Britain. Determined to introduce — or rather impose — this inspiring vision of God’s word on her social group and America in general, she plunges into her project partly to avoid dealing with her alcoholic husband and troubled daughter.

The best performance in this elegant production with a winning cast is from Leslie Hendrix as Susan, a role first played on Broadway by Gertrude Lawrence. Ms. Hendrix, the wry medical examiner on all those “Law & Order” television shows, bursts onto the stage in the first act with all the determination of a speeding train, her chic red dress blotting out the stately tennis whites of her friends and acquaintances, and commands it from there. She’s first among equals, with fine performances from the rest of the cast, especially Timothy Deenihan as Susan’s tormented husband, and Jennifer Blood as her daughter, one of the most believable stage teenagers in years.

Jonathan Bank, the artistic director of the Mint, directs with a nuanced hand, wisely underplaying the more “well-made” elements of the play; his treatment of the final scene, especially, transforms what could have been a thuddingly moralistic wrap-up into a much more ambivalent resolution.

But much of the credit must go to Ms. Crothers, whose ear for breezy dialogue, jaundiced but sympathetic eye and sharp perception of the conflicts between family and career lend the play a very contemporary tone and relevance.