The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Act 1 opens in the glass-enclosed terrace of Irene Burroughs’s country house. As the curtain rises, Irene and Michael O’Hara enter. Concerned about the arrival of Susan Trexel and how she will react if she learns that Michael and Irene are living together, Irene warns Michael to be careful about what he tells Susan. He is annoyed at Irene’s lack of openness. They are interrupted by the arrival of Charlotte Marley, Leonora Stubbs, her husband Stubbie, and Clyde Rochester. It is soon clear that the group is not happy: Stubbie is jealous of the attention Clyde pays to Leonora, Leonora makes fun of Stubbie, and all focus nervously on Susan’s impending arrival. They dissect Susan’s troubled marriage to the alcoholic Barrie Trexel, and Charlotte criticizes Susan’s neglect of her teenage daughter, Blossom.

However, when the charming Susan appears, her friends respond immediately. They are fascinated by Susan’s story of meeting Lady Wiggam, a British woman who has begun a “movement” that emphasizes spiritual contact and a “practical” God. Leonora takes Susan to get settled, and the rest scatter when Susan’s husband, Barrie, arrives with Blossom, whom he has rescued from her lonely boarding school. While Barrie and Blossom wait to see Susan, they talk about Blossom’s dislike of the camp where Susan has sent her every summer. They discuss staying together as a family for the summer, using their own country house. It is clear that this can happen only if Susan agrees. The first scene ends when Irene’s butler lies for Irene, telling Barrie that Susan will not come until the next day. Barrie and Blossom leave together.

Scene 2 opens after dinner, with the group feeling guilty about their treatment of Barrie. Susan is expounding on the importance of being “God conscious.” She creates a problem by urging Clyde to confess his...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Susan and God is a problem play, a realistic drama focused on social issues in the tradition of Henrik Ibsen. It follows the conventions of a well-made play, with complex plot development and characters who are realistically developed both physically and psychologically.

The characters are upper middle class, with enough leisure time to have choices about how they live their lives. The portrayal is sometimes depressingly, and sometimes humorously, realistic—they bicker, whine, play mind games, and mock one another. Yet, they also have genuine friendships and can support one another when the need arises—for example, Charlotte nurses Barrie, and Barrie, when he understands Blossom’s real feelings, works hard to be the kind of supportive parent that she needs. He also recognizes Susan’s importance to Blossom and is careful to portray Susan’s actions in the most positive light possible.

The settings are realistic but also serve a symbolic function. For example, Irene’s terrace room, which features long, wide windows, wooden tubs of ivy, and chintz-covered garden furniture, seems like a part of the outdoors, an ironic point, given the claustrophobic atmosphere of the first scene. The characters are always seen indoors, in the terrace or sitting rooms, and rarely venture out, except to play tennis, ride horses, or drink on the terrace. The settings emphasize their artificial, shallow lifestyle. Even Blossom’s name is ironically symbolic. At first she is ugly and neglected but she later “blossoms” in the company of her parents.

Crothers also enriches the problem aspect of the play by examining religious fraud and alcoholism in addition to women’s issues. She clearly demonstrates that her characters’ problems come from a variety of sources, and she portrays them in a sympathetic light.


(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Abramson, Doris. “Rachel Crothers: Broadway Feminist.” In Modern American Drama: The Female Canon, edited by June Schleuter. London: Associated University Presses, 1990.

Friedman, Sharon. “Feminism as Theme in Twentieth-Century Women’s Drama.” American Studies 25 (1984): 69-89.

Gottlieb, Lois. “Looking to Women: Rachel Crothers and the Feminist Heroine.” In Women in American Theatre, edited by Helen Krich Chinoy and Linda Walsh Jenkins. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1987.

Gottlieb, Lois. Rachel Crothers. Boston: Twayne, 1979.

Lindroth, Colette, and James Lindroth. Rachel Crothers: A Research and Production Sourcebook. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995.

Sutherland, Cynthia. “American Women Playwrights as Mediators of the ‘Woman Problem.’” Modern Drama 21 (1978): 319-336.