Review: ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ by the Arlington Players

A quaint house at first glance is anything but when it is discovered that Aunt Abby and Aunt Martha are serving their guests something a little stronger than tea in Arsenic and Old Lace by Joseph Kesselring. Brought to life by the energetic and enthusiastic Arlington Players, this 1939 murder-filled classic takes the stage at the Thomas Jefferson Community Theater this month.

Catherine Lyon (Martha Brewster) and Beth Hughes-Brown (Abby Brewster) in The Arlington Players' production of Arsenic and Old Lace. Photo by Bermet Sydygalieva.
Catherine Lyon (Martha Brewster) and Beth Hughes-Brown (Abby Brewster) in The Arlington Players’ production of Arsenic and Old Lace. Photo by Bermet Sydygalieva.

Endearing and shall we say overly helpful, Abby and Martha Brewster, played by Beth Hughes-Brown and Catherine Lyon, are wholly devoted to their calling of helping lonely old men find their peaceful end and are unable to comprehend why their excitable nephew, Mortimer, is getting so worked up about it. The sweet nurturing demeanor of Hughes-Brown and Lyon was an entertaining foil to the bumbling, exclamatory deeds afoot. Lyon’s Martha, in particular, had a knack for using small, innocuous comments or the silence in a scene to extend my suspension of disbelief just enough to peek around the corner to her and her sister’s “charitable” logic.

Their nephews Mortimer, Teddy, and Jonathan Brewster, played by Richard Isaacs, Tom Schiller, and Matthew Wise, on the other hand, were larger (and louder) than their lines and characters in the truest sense. While Jonathan leaned heavily on the vaudevillian villain trope, Teddy’s escapism into his presidential personality seemed almost in two different humorous worlds. Isaacs’ Mortimer often played between the two comedic styles of slapstick and farce, and his elastic face was a cue card for the audience to follow along.

This Arlington Players production had its strongest moments when it balanced the farcical elements of the play’s DNA. Officers Brophy, Klein, and O’Hara, played by Michael Neumann, Ali Cheraghpour, and Eric Kennedy, were excellent examples of this in their charming “opening act.” From reminding the audience to turn off any buzzing, beeping, or ringing devices, to wrestling with each other for the spotlight in true Marx Brothers fashion, they were a great way to set the tone for the evening. Kennedy in particular as Officer O’Hara was a scene stealer every time he entered the room. His deliberate character quirks and perfectly exaggerated expressions/reactions were a fantastic match for the show. Goofy, bashful, and a little bit dense, Kennedy was easily my favorite performance of the night.

Another standout of the production was the delightful Set Design by Nicolas Queyrane. The sheer number of doors alone required to pull off a production of this show is daunting but what Queyrane (with the help of Master Carpenter/Tech Director Bill Fry) was able to create was an inviting balance of space, color, and dimension. Dressed intricately by Props Designer Charlene Sloan, the set left viewers’ eyes never wanting for something to look at that didn’t also add a nice level of depth to the scenes. Combined with the rest of the Production Team, Director Liz Mykietyn and Producer Lora Buckman had quite the canvas against which to create this outlandish world.

L-R: Richard Isaacs (Mortimer Brewster), Tom Schiller (Teddy Brewster) and Michael Wong (Dr. Einstein) in The Arlington Players' production of Arsenic and Old Lace. Photo by Bermet Sydygalieva.
L-R: Richard Isaacs (Mortimer Brewster), Tom Schiller (Teddy Brewster) and Michael Wong (Dr. Einstein) in The Arlington Players’ production of Arsenic and Old Lace. Photo by Bermet Sydygalieva.

A self-aware play by design, Arsenic and Old Lace has a grand old time poking fun at itself by taking on murder mystery clichés and soap opera twists with a twinkle in its eye. A classic take on a classic show, this Arlington Players production promises to be a light-hearted evening peppered with humorous moments and more than a few guffaws. But maybe pass on the elderberry wine if someone in old lace offers to pour you a glass.

Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, including one intermission.

Arsenic and Old Lace is playing through February 16, 2019, at the Thomas Jefferson Community Theater – 125 S Old Glebe Rd, Arlington, VA. For tickets, purchase them online.

Reverend Dr. Harper, Joseph LeBlanc; Elaine Harper, Lindsey June; Mr. Gibbs, Charles Palmer; Dr. Einstein, Michael Wong; Lieutenant Rooney, Anthony Pohl; Mr. Witherspoon, Bob Thompson; Costume Designer, Robbie Snow; Lighting Co-Designers, Ken and Patty Crowley; Sound Designer, Rick Dulick