Review: ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ at Other Voices Theatre

For a fantastic evening of dark comedy with hysterical individual performances that bring quirky characters to life, don’t miss Arsenic and Old Lace at Other Voices Theatre!

Nicely directed by Ray Hatch and written by Joseph Kesselring, Arsenic and Old Lace is a classic American black comedy perfect for the Halloween season. In Brooklyn in the 1940’s, two sweet, elderly sisters, Abby and Martha Brewster, are perfect examples of charity and kindness whom no one would ever suspect of harboring a dark secret. Their nephew, Mortimer Brewster, has recently moved back to the area for his newspaper job and when he makes a visit home to check in on his aunts, he discovers their hilariously evil secret. The aunts have, out of pure charity and kindness, been poisoning lonely old men with elderberry wine laced with arsenic to ease the old men’s suffering and burying the bodies in their cellar! Now, Mortimer must decide what to do with this enormous discovery as his insane brothers, exasperated fiancée, and neighborhood cops loom even closer to discovering the secret!

Nancy Johnson Jones and Susan Thornton as the Brewster sisters. Photo by Thomas Bricker.

Nancy Johnson-Jones steals the show as sister in charge, Abby Brewster. Her comedic timing was exceptional and she stopped the show several times with exceptionally innocent delivery on some one-liners.

Susan Thornton is delightfully perky and chipper as Martha Brewster. Her physicality is outstanding and she displays a hysterical character voice throughout the show. Johnson-Jones and Thornton are a comedic dream team, with exceptional reactions to each other and cute synchronized movements.

Sean Byrne, as Mortimer, makes the lead character discovering dark secrets about his family as zany and quirky as possible. Byrne was incredibly sprightly with hysterical physical comedy moments and over the top reactions, clowning around with excellent comedic timing. Erica LeFebvre is refined and sweetly sassy as Mortimer’s fiancée, Elaine, though she could consider a little more ease and variety in her performance choices.

As the brother convinced he is Teddy Roosevelt, David Chiarenza is wonderfully bold and brash with some highly amusing vocal delivery. He evoked laughter without fail every time he “charged” up the stairs.

Matt Bannister is a towering and terrifying figure as the evil brother, Jonathan. Bannister brought a contrasting sinister and threatening feel to the comedy and his explosions of rage were truly frightening.

To lighten up the villainous duo, Lee Hebb is phenomenal as Dr. Einstein, Jonathan’s accomplice. Hebb is delightfully over the top with his demeanor and his accent. His comedic bit in Act II about keeping score between Jonathan and the sisters was absolutely hysterical and Hebb nearly stopped the show with the audience laughter it provoked.

The cast of Arsenic and Old Lace. Photo by Thomas Bricker.

Greg Berezuk is delightfully awkward and out of place as the sincere Reverend Harper. Owen Raynor is absolutely adorable as Officer O’Hara, with an amusing Irish accent and his hysterically awkward character choices.

Thomas Bricker as Officer Brophy and Samn Huffer as Officer Klein form a dynamic duo as the colorfully local and bumbling, inept cops who check in on the Brewer sisters.

Jeff Elkins as Mr. Gibbs, Charlie Raeihle as Lieutenant Rooney, and Ed Gabb as Mr. Witherspoon round out the cast with uniquely reserved performances in the second half of the show. The production also featured a very creative curtain call, with actors entering for their bows from unique locations hidden in the set.

Though individual performances throughout the show are excellent, the show overall needs a much quicker pace, as pacing tends to drag at several key moments throughout the show and the wonderful comedy could be even funnier with faster reactions and entrances.

The set, designed by Lee Hebb, is an impressively detailed two story reproduction of a Victorian home, complete with full staircases and allowing plenty of room for all of the running around throughout the evening. The excellent lighting design by Steve Knapp nicely highlights the passage of time throughout the show and provides easy visibility for the nighttime scenes occurring in the dark, while costumes designed by Patty Byrne and Nancy Speck are simple and accurate reproductions of a 1940’s wardrobe.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including two 10-minute intermissions.

Arsenic and Old Lace plays through November 5, 2017 at Other Voices Theatre, performing at the Performing Arts Factory – 244 South Jefferson Street, in Frederick, MD. For tickets, buy them at the door, or purchase online.

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