I enjoyed a fun evening with my sisters, Linda and Debbie. We joined a full house at Joplin Little Theater, for the production of Arsenic and Old Lace. I watched the 1944 movie version recently. What a treat to see the play for the first time, during a girls’ night out.
Arsenic and Old Lace, by Joseph Kesselring, was written in 1939 and opened on January 10, 1941. The opening night review in The New York Times said the play was “so funny that none of us will ever forget it.” Indeed, it has not been forgotten. Arsenic and Old Lace became well known through the film adaptation starring Cary Grant, and continues to be a popular and endearing play, 78 years later.
The Joplin production was directed by Gary Roney, who was assisted by co-director Tegan Whited.
The play is a dark comedy, centered around the Brewster Family. Descended from an ancestor who arrived on the Mayflower, they are now a peculiar family of homicidal maniacs. The hero of the story is Mortimer Brewster (Sam Hydar), a drama critic, who learns more than he cares to know about his crazy family, after proposing to his girlfriend Elaine (Ashley Trotnic).
Mortimer’s sweet, charitable aunts, Martha (Carolyn McGowan) and Abby (Molly Burkhart) have a surprising, and dark, secret. Out of a sense of compassion, they help lonely older gentlemen by serving them homemade elderberry wine, laced with arsenic. They have assisted twelve gentlemen thus far. Their bodies are buried in the basement.
Aiding the sisters is Mortimer’s brother Teddy (Daniel Pool), who believes he is the president of the United States,Theodore Roosevelt. He unwittingly provides graves in the basement for the deceased, thinking he is digging canals at Panama.
Rounding out the eccentric Brewsters is the bad boy of the family, Jonathan (Drew Girouard), who returns home unexpectedly with his partner in crime, Dr. Einstein (Jeremy Wolfe). They bring with them a body of their own to conceal.
Mortimer must deal with the revelations that are piling up, along with the bodies, and make crucial decisions about his odd family members and his own uncertain future.
In spite of the grim topic, this was a fun play to watch. It is performed as a comedy, and it is one, delightfully so. The audience was appreciative of the fine performances, laughing boisterously and applauding at the end of each act. I think we all laugh because we are relieved that every family has its secrets and its eccentricities.
The whole cast of characters, which included Brooklyn police officers, an insane asylum director, a minister, an older gentleman looking for a room and even a “dead” body, performed wonderfully together and genuinely seemed to have fun playing.
I have to give special recognition to Sam Hydar, who was superb as Mortimer. He captured that over the top style of humor reminiscent of Cary Grant in the movie adaptation, with hilarious facial expressions and gestures.
And Jeremy Wolfe gave an amazing performance as Dr. Einstein, the alcoholic surgeon who fell in with the villainous brother, Jonathan. Wolfe impersonated the film’s counterpart, Peter Lorre, so well that it messed with my head!
My sister Debbie and I intend to be the Brewster Sisters at the family Halloween party this year. We enjoyed the play and left with great ideas for costumes and props. After watching the performance tonight, Debbie was drawn to Abby’s personality and I’ll step into Martha’s role. We will have fun being those sweet ladies with their misguided but well intentioned ideas for easing the suffering of lonely old men.
What a great evening we had, with quality sister time, an outstanding performance from Joplin Little Theater, and research for becoming the Brewster Sisters for Halloween. Elderberry wine, anyone?