Presented by the Footlight Players
Nov. 1-3, 8-10, 8 p.m.
Nov. 11, 3 p.m.
20 Queen St.
A.R. Gurney is one of the best of American playwrights, an acknowledged expert on WASP culture and its romantic conventions. These qualities fail to emerge in Footlight's production of Sweet Sue. A variation on the classic story of a middle-aged woman and a younger man who have a summer romance, it splits each role in two but gains little for the effort.
Unlike other such situations, such as Peter Nichol's Passions, in which one actor might be the subconscious urging the other to some deed, in this script, they are merely two representations of the same person, without enough difference to make them interesting. The Footlight's presentation of the material is not the problem; rather, it's the material itself.
When the play opened on Broadway in 1987, the casting of Mary Tyler Moore and Lynn Redgrave in the title roles was its best strength, but time has not made the play more relevant or interesting. From a purely academic standpoint, arguments are made for the relevancy of the play given its nuances and intricacies. Is it the author's attempt to portray his own dual role?
As Gurney states in the script notes, it's meant to be viewed as two distinct views of the same character, each telling the same story at the same time. Regardless of its interest to students of literature or theater, onstage it never achieves a moment of climax or concern that draws the audience into caring for the lackluster revelations presented.
Director John O. Fennell has worked well with his cast. The lines that are split between the two roles of Susan/Susan Too and Jake/Jake Too often share sentences or thoughts and require good timing to be properly presented. Karen Moskos, playing the older, mature Susan, and Jackie Roberts as the younger, romantic version achieve their timing, as do Daniel Lesesne and Josh Sapakoff in the roles of the Jakes.
There is little to fault the actors or their direction in this production, because what the play boils down to is this: Will they or won't they end up together? As written, though, there is little reason for the audience to care, one way or the other. That the most exciting moment comes when the two men are naked on stage (it's artistic rather than sexual; only their buttocks show) summarizes what's missing in this show.
Sweet Sue has never been popular with critics, but when even the audience is indifferent to the success or failure of the characters' relationships, there is little left to watch. There are a few funny moments. Gurney is after all a truly gifted playwright, but he tends to use an artifice in his plays as a gimmick to tell his stories such as in Love Letters or The Cocktail Hour. In the former, he used correspondence as the delivery medium, and in the latter a "party critic" is the vehicle by which the story is told. Each of these added to the play and added something to the American stage. In Sweet Sue, however, the play might be better if there were only two actors on stage, but it is certainly worse for the use of the split-role mechanism.
After Footlight's great start this season with the popular Accomplice and the naughty Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight, the production of Sweet Sue feels like a letdown. Charleston audiences have a tendency to be very generous with their applause at the end of a production, giving standing ovations for many shows, but this time the applause quickly faded, as will the memory of this blah production.