Arsenic and Old Lace by Joseph Kesselring, directed by Jen Sizer and produced by Maureen Rogers, opened at Laurel Mill Playhouse on Friday, March 24th. The script was written in 1939 at the end of the Great Depression and the dawning of World War II. People needed to laugh then and right now we all could use a good laugh. It is probably one of the great escapist black comedies in American Theater. Its endurance is because it is, frankly, very funny. The characters are finely written and these personae are some of the most classic mad-cap individuals in modern comedy. However, this is also a mystery of sorts. If you have never had the chance to see it as a play or movie, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but there are many twists and turns that leave you wondering what will happen next. If you have seen it, this production will not disappoint your funny-bone.
The basic plot revolves around two elderly sisters. Abby Brewster (Terri Laurino) and Martha Brewster (Maureen Rogers) and their three nephews. The sisters are sweet but insane as is their live-in nephew, Teddy (John D’Amato), who truly believes he is Theodore Roosevelt. Mortimer Brewster (Gary Eurice) is the sane one in the family, trying to take care of his aunts and brother while courting the girl next door, Elaine Harper (Julie Rogers). Into this strange household comes the long absent and sinister brother, Jonathan (Stuart Rick) and his unethical and shady doctor accomplice, Dr. Einstein (Larry Simmons). Just when you think you have figured this one out, the plot takes a new turn and the pace of the farce get more and more convoluted. But, even with murderers and dead bodies abounding, the comedy continues to make this production in a class with other fine ones of the past.
Jen Sizer is the director of the mayhem. Sizer does a admirable job keeping the timing spot on and keeping everyone visible on a intimate stage, and she also designed the set. The set is a perfect replica of a home from the early 20th century in Brooklyn. I especially loved the color scheme and all the lace curtains and tablecloths were icing on the cake.
As the two romantic leads, Eurice and J. Rogers have a great amount of chemistry. As Elaine, Rogers is both shocked at the antics of her future husband while still trying to be seductive to him. Eurice’s Mortimer is at his best when he is trying to deal with his family His scene with his aunts when he discovers their secret is hysterical.
Laurino plays the more dominant sister, Abby. She does a remarkable job creating a likeable old lady who has a love of murder. Maureen Rogers makes Martha Brewster a little sweeter than her sister and this works very well as her performance wonderfully complements Laurino’s.
The scene stealers of this production are the performances of Rick and Simmons as the despicable duo. Rick’s Jonathan is so sinister puts a shiver down my spine, but yet, his timing was so impeccable he made me laugh all the time. The same is true of Simmons whose German accent and smarminess really are reminiscent of Peter Lorre who played the role decades ago. When they play off each other, the comedy is at its best.
One of the most sort after character roles ever, though, may be the role of Teddy, and D’Amato’s portrayal never lets us down. Who could not laugh at his badly played bugle and his charging down to “Panama” to build his canal. I also found John Dignam as Officer O’Hara and John Cusumano as Lieutenant Rooney bring much humor to their roles. As a former New Yorker, I really appreciated their accents.
The cast is rounded out with Mark T. Allen (as Mr. Witherspoon, Shawn Fournier as Officer Klein, David McCrary as The Rev. Dr. Harper, Marvin Rogers as Mr. Gibbs and Jen Sizer as Officer Brophy. All do fine jobs in their respective roles.
The costumes were well-designed by Marge McGugan and were definitely in period. Michael Hartsfield’s lighting helped illuminate the artful set. A special nod to Lori Bruun as Stage Manager who made sure everyone got where they need to be and props were all in place. In this play that is a challenge.
LMP almost is a repertory company with its core of regulars. Having a group of fine actors and technical people to call on allows LMP to stay on the top of its game.
If you have never seen Arsenic and Old Lace, there are no more excuses.So, don’t miss this production. If you have seen it, you will still be intoxicated by this production. But, it is probably better to skip the elderberry wine.
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with an intermission.