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‘Arsentic & Old Lace’ Review

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Abby and Martha C“Insanity runs in our family; it practically gallops,” an exasperated Mortimer Brewster muses at during a night of murder and mayhem. But Mortimer’s loss of peace and respectability is the audience’s gain as the CFABS Community Players deliver an evening of rip-roaring fun and delight in their production of the American theater classic Arsenic & Old Lace, which is only on stage in the Hinman Auditorium for a scant seven performances beginning tonight. 

To be fair, the humor in this play does not inhere primarily in playwright Joseph Kesserlring’s dialogue, Teddy Roosevelt Awhich is understandably dated given that he wrote and set the play in 1939. Rather, the laughs are situational, built into the structure of the comedy noir plot, which remains timeless and time honored even in 2016.

Immediately after he proposes marriage to his girlfriend, Elaine, Mortimer Brewster has deep regrets. No, it’s not that he’s come down with a case of cold feet. Rather, he discovers a body in the Teddy Roosevelt Fwindow box of his aunts’ dining room. As he promptly discovers, one of the many charitable works that Abby and Martha Brewster lovingly perform is poisoning elderly gentlemen who come to their boarding house looking for a room to rent. As if explaining the obvious to a simple-minded child, the spinsters tell the befuddled Mortimer that they are simply sparing their victims of Teddy Roosevelt Ftwilight years denoted by loneliness and failing health. So they ply their would-be renters with elderberry wine spiked with arsenic, strychnine and cyanide (because the mixture leaves a telltale aroma if you add it to tea). To Mortimer’s shock and dismay, the man in the window box is not his aunts’ first mercy killing. Abby and Martha are so dedicated to helping the lonely transition to the Elaine and Mortimer Proposal Bnext life that they’ve repeated the feat 12 times. “You can’t count the first one,” laments Abby, who is seated at the dining room table. “He died of a heart attack right here in this chair,” she says, pointing to the chair in which Moritmer has slumped. He quickly vacates the antique chair.

The house borders a cemetery, but that’s not where the sisters bury the bodies. No, no. That would be far too logical for a storyline like this. Instead, the sisters have their brother Teddy inter their victims in the basement. You see, Teddy Brewster is Martha Brewster Edelusional and believes himself to be Teddy Roosevelt. When he’s not charging up San Juan Hill (the stairs to his second floor bedroom) , blowing his bugle, or signing secret treaties, he is digging locks for the Panama Canal in the basement, where he disposes of the poor souls who’ve perished of “Yellow Fever.”

Informed that his aunts’ proclivities are apparently Abby and Martha Fgenetic (one of his ancestors came over on the Mayflower and turned the tables on the Indians they displaced by scalping them before they could scalp him), Mortimer finds himself impaled on the horns of a dilemma. He not only cannot marry Elaine and bring a new generation of crazy-assed Brewsters into the world, he must find a way to stop his impassioned aunts and cover up their Jonathan Brewster Amisdeeds. But before the beleaguered Mortimer can formulate and implement a plan, his ne’er-do-well brother arrives. Jonathan Brewster, it turns out, has escaped from a prison for the criminally insane with the help of a self-proclaimed plastic surgeon of German descent by the name of Dr. Einstein, whose botched operations have left Jonathan looking rather like Boris Karloff.  And one of the funniest scenes in this uproariously funny play is when the sadistic serial killer discovers that his aunts’ body count equals is own, prompting him to decide to one-up the Abby Brewster Bold biddies by killing the hapless Mortimer, who he’s long detested and despised. 

But it’s not just the machinations of the murderously crazy Brewster clan that slay the audience. It’s the sight gags, the exaggerated facial expressions and the beatific looks on Abby’s face as she contemplates all the good that she and Martha have done by putting so many sad and tortured old Arsenic and Old Lace Amen out of their otherwise inescapable misery.

With a cast of 14, the action is non-stop. There’s never a dull moment in this 2-hour, 15-minute production. And thanks to the combination of Kesselring’s writing, Denise Hayes and Ida Bradley’s costumes and props, and director Gary Obeldobel’s inspired casting, each of the characters who flitter across the wide Hinman Theater stage Arsenic and Old Lace Bhave distinctive and oddly-endearing personalities, especially Teddy (played by David Watson), Officer O’Hara (played by Patrick Day) and even the heinous Jonathan (David Whalley) and his equally nefarious accomplice, Dr. Einstein (David Frost).

There is no world-changing, life-altering message for the audience to decipher and digest in this The Cast Bproduction. There are no eloquent monologues or tantillizing soliloquys over which to marvel. Arsenic & Old Lace is not so pretentious. It’s just two hours and fifteen minutes of sheer entertainment, guffaws and good old-fashioned belly laughs. The acting is impressive. The set’s amazing. And the venue is one of the best in all of Southwest Florida. This is one show you really don’t want to miss.

Please click here for a synopsis of the play, play dates, times and ticket information.

Published March 10, 2016.

 

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