First produced in 1941, the classic “Arsenic and Old Lace” by Joseph Kesselring has had several versions performed, including a film released in 1944 starring Cary Grant and directed by Frank Capra.
The black comedy is a fun and silly play, and what is unique about its current presentation is “Arsenic and Old Lace” is the first straight play produced by Sorcerer Productions.
For several years, the company has produced musicals that have been performed at the Clark Center, but this season they have expanded their repertoire to include this play and later “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
A good choice to branch out, “Arsenic and Old Lace” is deftly directed by Danielle Dutro. The pace starts slowly as the audience is introduced to the Brewster Sisters. Abby (Anita Schwaber) and Martha (Debora Schwartz) are both sweet and quiet spinsters, living a an old house with their nephew, who believes he is Teddy Roosevelt. Larry Kaml plays the wacky Teddy, who yells, “charge” every time he climbs the stairs.
The action picks up when another nephew, Mortimer (Cody Pettit), and his girlfriend Elaine (Jennifer Malman) enter the house. Mortimer is a frustrated play critic who wants a bigger life, and Elaine just wants to get married.
Things take off when Mortimer realizes what his aunts do with their elderberry wine. He goes into a frenzy of activity trying to conceal what is going on.
Pettit, so good in last year’s Sorcerer production of “Forever Plaid,” is very good here as the harried nephew. His physical work is fun to watch.
Enter another nephew, Jonathan (Bill Kirkpatrick), the black sheep of the family, and his partner in crime, Dr. Einstein (Mike Mesker). Jonathan is obsessed with plastic surgery and Einstein is his surgeon.
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Played with a distinct, overbearing menace, Kirkpatrick does a good job of playing the bad guy. He plays right into the stereotypical mannerisms of a 1940s villain to humorous effect. There are several funny references to his looks based on the man who originally played the role on Broadway — Boris Karloff.
Mesker is quite good as the bumbling and paranoid doctor, who lives in constant fear of Jonathan.
Schwaber and Schwartz are funny and scary as the two murderous old ladies, believing that what they are doing is perfectly reasonable. Their soft-whispering speaking voices are at once timid, sweet and foreboding as they talk matter-of-factly about their deeds. And Kaml is hilarious as the clueless, insane and noble Teddy Kasady Riley, Seth Blackburn and Eric Atwood play three different cops who find themselves involved in the tug-of-war between Mortimer, Jonathan and the aunts.
Richard Dresp rounds out the cast, playing three small but important roles throughout the action.
In the smaller Studio Theatre, there is a nice atmosphere of intimacy that works with this play. The set design by Ryan Manus is very good, and the costumes by Michael Rogers are good and in step with the time frame of the story.
Dutro pulls it all together, and the classic play gets its due respect in the production.
Several of the cast members have been in earlier Sorcerer productions, and a few are newcomers. The good news is the company is starting to build a solid ensemble of actors, and with “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Arsenic and Old Lace,” the company is off to a good start in their first full season.