Although three murders, or “helping lonely men to find peace,” as the aunts see it, take place in the first two minutes, Rockville Little Theatre’s current presentation of Joseph Kesselring’s classic Arsenic and Old Lace is great fun for those with a little appreciation of 20th Century American history.
It is 1941. War clouds appear in the East and West. There are too many abandoned old men in Brooklyn. A theatre critic would rather be overseas on assignment covering a civil war in Spain. He is keeping uncommon hours with the preacher’s daughter next door.
That’s the setting for the Brewster mansion. It is now owned by two courteous, friendly, and pleasant sisters noted for their generosity. So what if they are a little crazy and wind up in a body count race with another criminally insane nephew (Keith Cassidy).
Natalie McManus gives an outstanding performance as Martha Brewster by capturing the character with her delivery, voice, and movements. Joan Crooks plays Abby Brewster and does a fine job with her dialogue.
Younger Washington Nationals fans will discover Teddy is not just a racing president. Teddy Brewster (Kirk Patton, Jr.), aka Teddy Roosevelt, brings the role to life with charges up San Juan Hill, digging the Panama Canal, and blasted bugle calls at all hours.
The script also pokes fun at playwrights, actors, and theater in general which the audience appreciated on the night I attended. The jabs by newspaper theatre critic Mortimer Brewster (Ryan Patrick Williams) are particularly entertaining. In one aside Mortimer and The Rev. Dr. Harper (Michael Scherer) discuss whether Japan or Europe pose the greater threat to war.
After Mortimer proposes to Elaine Harper (Amanda Wesley) he discovers the secrets of the manor. Once Mortimer discovers the family secret, it looks as if the critic is headed for a breakdown, then things get crazier – and funnier – with the appearance of the third brother
Jonathan (Keith Cassidy).
Laura Andruski, Eric Henry, and William Kolodrubetz’s set features a large drawing room and dining area. Three doors provide for ample stage entrance and exits. In addition, a solid staircase provides another entrance point. James Hoobler’s era-appropriate designs are swell.
The hour-and-40 minutes until intermission sometimes drags. But Director Tristan Poje’s cast brings the show to a conclusion with none of the aunts’ eternal guests being discovered, and the audience is left laughing and applauding.
Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.
Rockville Little Theatre presents Arsenic and Old Lace playing through October 6, 2019, at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, 603 Edmonston Dr, Rockville, MD. For tickets, call 240-314-8690 or go online.
Dr. Einstein: Stuart Fischer; Officer O’Hara: Maria Flaks; Officer Brophy: Leena Shrivasta Dev; Officer Klein: Rob Allen: Lt. Rodney/Mr. Gibbs: Eric Henry; Mr. Witherspoon: Scherer.
Producers: Jeff McDermott, Kathryn Stirling-Hegwood; Assistant Director: Omar Latiri; Stage Manager: Jen Katz; Master Carpenter: Eric Henry; Set Painter: Katherine Rogers; Lighting Designer: James Robertson; Sound Designer: Elly Makowski; Costumers: Becky Bucci, Jennifer Morrissey, James Hoobler; Overture Choreographer: Taverlee Laskauskas.