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‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ at StillPointe Theatre Initiative by Amanda Gunther

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You are cordially invited to tea at the Brewster residence. A splendid time is guaranteed for all as Aunties Abbey and Martha will entertain you with their unusually sweet and eccentric charm — you might even get to meet president Roosevelt! Whatever you do — DON’T DRINK THE WINE! StillPointe Theatre Initiative presents the uproarious comedy Arsenic and Old Lace as their fall production in the 2012 season. A laugh-a-minute cuckoo comedy about two dingbat old biddies that make one of their personal charities a mission of mercy— sending lonely old men to a more comfortable resting place: their final one. Add into the mix a murderous convict escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane and the brother who thinks he’s President Roosevelt (and that Panama is in the basement) and you’re in for one hilarious night!

(l to r) Aunt Martha Brewster (Lisa Wooten) and Aunt Abby Brewster (Danielle Robinette). Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker Photography.

Directed by Grace Anastasiadis, this production is maximum madness from the moment you walk in. Never missing a moment to pack further lunacy into the already wacky situation, Anastasiadis works every beat of every scene into punch-drunk perfection. With uniquely composed music presented by Joe Beitman and the low key orchestra, this production will have you bursting at the seams. The music highlights key moments; presidential sounds of “Yankee Doodle” and other important patriotic tunes echoing every time Teddy enters and exits a scene, or swanky harlot chords to accompany the steamier moments with Elaine (Amanda Rife). The underscores provide a unique eccentricity all their own to this already batshit bizarre production, but you’ve never had so much fun listening to quirky innuendo sourced from flute and saxophone!

Keeping with the insanity theme Set Designer Ryan Haase takes the delirium to new heights with his garish purple and pink interior decorating. The set will certainly make your eyes pop — from the bright purple walls with matching and clashing accents in the furniture (the furiously fuchsia and black polka dot settee being my personal favorite) to the long black hair that serves as curtains into the kitchen, there is no mistaking that you’re about to see some ludicrous events unfold in this household. There’s even a working elevator that goes down to the basement (or Panama)! The detail that strikes me as the oddest is the large golden portrait frames on the walls as they are completely empty, as if someone simply forgot to hang pictures in them — or perhaps the nutty characters see invisible people or portraits in them that the rest of us cannot.

Front Row: Teddy Brewster (Ryan Haase) Middle Row: (l to r) Aunt Abby Brewster (Danielle Robinette) and Aunt Martha Brewster (Lisa Wooten). Back Row: (l to r) Jonathan Brewster (Charlie Long) and Mortimer Brewster (Jack Sossman). Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker Photography.

The characters that creep out of the woodwork in this production are on par for the course with their crazy quirks and nonsensical nuances. Making a minor appearance as Reverend Harper but then later as a kindly old gentleman Gibbs, Jon Kevin Lazarus makes quite the impression from his brief period of time spent on stage. His crippled gait and warbling voice belay his youthful looks, convincing you that he really is a doddering old man with a crotchety disposition.

Other quick scene-stealing characters include Officer O’Hara (Phillip Doccolo) with his slightly Brooklyn approach to being a beat cop, the whip-snap self-important Lt. Rooney (Jayne Harris) and the flighty almost equally insane as everyone else Ms. Witherspoon (Maddie Hicks). While we see so very little of these three characters, their presence is wildly amusing and well-worth the moments they spend on the stage.

Teetering on the brink of his sanity is Mortimer (Jack Sossman). Watching it all fall apart before his eyes, between his criminally insane brother, and his normally insane brother, and his two whacky aunts, Sossman tries desperately to keep his composure and his wits about him. But when he loses it, he hits the roof full swing and doesn’t back down. Sossman makes the perfect balance to all of the barmy nonsense that echoes throughout the performance.

Getting right down to the meat and potatoes of the lunatics in the Brewster clan are the two ancient aunties who have gone well round the twist in their ripe old age.  Aunt Abby (Danielle Robinette) and Martha (Lisa Wooten) are the epitome of funny farm females. With their odd approach to what is good hospitality and their rough edginess when it comes to people upsetting the delicate balance of their bizarre lifestyles, this pair of loony toons really crank it up a notch in regards to the crazy factor. Robinette in particular is more maniacal in her lunacy; taking insanity to whole new level. Wooten is the more aloof and flighty loon of the pair, but together they make for a dynamically disastrous duo.

Ringing in second place is Jonathan Brewster (Charlie Long). The bad boy gone bonkers Long plays up a scarface character with serious mental issues that have expounded to new extremes when he starts competing for body count with his daffy relatives. His frightening facial expressions inspire pure terror into those watching him, with wide delirious eyes that never close and hardly ever blink; he has nutjob practically printed on his forehead. And this is one character you do not want to piss off; he spells anger with a capital ‘A’ in more ways than one.

But taking the cake, the gold, and the bugle in certifiable lunatic is Teddy (Ryan Haase). Stealing every moment he is on stage, Haase lives the lunacy of this character’s mental illness. When he prances about and starts waltzing with corpses he’s hit the mother-load of madness. Haase engrosses himself so deeply in the character, forcing you to focus on him whenever he is present, between his charging up the steps to San Juan Hill or his over elation of delving down into Panama to dig locks for the canal. A brilliant performance of epic absurdity that will have you laughing so hard you’ll cry when you witness his shenanigans.

So don’t run, do as insanity does and gallop off to this magnificent monstrosity of madness, and again, I caution you — Don’t drink the wine, or you too may find yourself taking a trip with Teddy down to Panama.

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission.

Arsenic and Old Lace plays through November 10, 2012 at StillPointe Theatre Initiative at Gallery 788 – 218 West Saratoga Street, in Baltimore, MD. Tickets can be purchased online, or at the door approximately one hour prior to show time.

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