ARSENIC AND OLD LACE
By Joseph Kesserling
Greater Cleburne Carnegie Players
Director – Becki Esch
Assistant Director – Kate Hicks
Production Consultant – Ed Sanders
Stage Manager - Meagan Sellers
Costume Design - Kennedy Styron
Set Design - Caleb Pieterse and Hillard Cochran
Sound Design - Mik Brown
Lights Design - Alan Meadows
Abby Brewster - Trich Zaitoon
Martha Brewster - Gail Gilbert
Mortimer Brewster - Jared Kyle
Teddy Brewster - Bob Beck
Jonathan Brewster – Shannon Maddox
Elaine Harper - Anna Looney
Rev. Dr. Harper/Lt. Rooney - Acy McGehee
Officer O’Hara - Jonathan Nash
Officer Brophy - Kellie Blankenship
Officer Klein - Melody Donovan
Dr. Einstein - Randy Head
Mr. Gibbs/Mr. Witherspoon - Delmar Dolbier
Reviewed Performance: 9/15/2017
Reviewed by Richard P. Buswold, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Arsenic and Old Lace is a staple of community theatres and high school drama departments across the land. I think the main reason for this is the fact that it is easy to produce. A static set, a small cast and a broadly enjoyable fun script usually make for a hassle-free show. The caveat to that is since it is such a well-known show, you had better have top notch actors and something interesting or standout-ish to look at on stage. Thankfully, Greater Cleburne Carnegie Players has both.
"Arsenic" opened at the Fulton Theater on Broadway in 1941 to rave reviews and closed three years later at the Hudson Theatre after an astounding 1,444 performances. Plays usually don't last that long on Broadway so that in itself is a testament to how well-liked this show is. There have been numerous revivals, several "TV Special" versions and the iconic 1944 Frank Capra film version starring Cary Grant. The play is still widely performed and has been translated into many languages, including a Russian film. A Hebrew version was staged at the Habima Theatre in Tel Aviv in 2012 and on November 19, 2016, Independent Theatre Pakistan opened their new season with a rendition of the show. This show has legs. The play revolves around the Brewster family, descended from the Mayflower, but now composed of insane homicidal maniacs. The hero, Mortimer Brewster (Jared Kyle), is a drama critic who must deal with his crazy, homicidal family, the cop who dreams of being a playwright, his delusional brother who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt and his fiancée. I must say I enjoyed the jabs about being a drama critic.
So, what does a small community theatre do with such a show? They cast actors that are perfectly fit for the roles and bring out a set that is just amazing. More on that later.
Jared Kyle's performance as the only sane Brewster trying to keep the world of his aunts from exploding is just simply put, astounding. Usually appearing in musicals, Jared brings a razor sharp comedic timing to the role. His facial expressions and voice inflections continuously bring laughter from the audience. He has an energy on the stage that is completely opposite the ultra-calm deadpan demeanor of the aunts. He is definitely the focal point of most of the comedy and he wears that well.
At the other end of the comedy spectrum is the dead-pan delivery of Tritch Zaitoon and Gale Gilbert as Abby and Martha Brewster respectively. Ms. Zaitoon, a multiple Column Award nominee and winner, is perfectly hilarious with her matter-of-fact, nonchalant view of mass murder and Ms. Gilbert plays beautifully right along with her making this a powerful comedy duo. Abby Brewster doesn't mean to be funny in anything she says but almost every line is quietly humorous and leads Mortimer helplessly into bits of physical comedy that are priceless.
Bob Beck as Teddy (Roosevelt) Brewster does his role with abandon and makes for a delightfully funny crackpot. Shannon Maddox as the mass-murdering, younger brother Jonathan, seemed a bit off in this performance; almost as if he was improving through some of his scenes where the lines either got lost or jumbled. Maybe that was just the characterization he was going for. It is hard to tell when you're watching an insane person.
The rest of the cast was solid and witty and added fine polish to the overall performance. I must say that it bothered me that this show is set in Brooklyn, NY in the early 1940s but yet, only one actor had the Brooklyn accent. Jonathan Nash tried to affect an Irish lilt as Officer O'Hara but the rest of them were either non-descript or had a pronounced Texas drawl.
I mentioned earlier that "Arsenic" needed something interesting to look at on the stage. GCCP made this production very interesting by having everything in sepia tones. The set, the backdrop, the costumes, the props and even the makeup were all done in Sepia. I am not sure if the kudos should go to Caleb Pieterse and Hillard Cochran, Becki Esch or Ed Sanders but whomever came up with that concept and carried it through, bravo to you. It brought a wonderful sense of nostalgia to the whole experience of the evening that was quite eloquent and simply, brilliant. This has landed GCCP on the top of my list for costume and set design for sure.
The one thing I thought was silly and should be done away with was the cheesy, haunted house voiceover of the curtain speech and intermission. It added exactly zero to the show and by the time it was very strangely used for the curtain call it had reached the level of annoyance. But honestly, that is the only detraction I have with this production.
Arsenic and Old Lace is a lovely comedy of stalwart importance in American Theatre history and this production truly entertains and I think it is a must-see.
ARSENIC AND OLD LACE plays through October 1st at the Cleburne Conference Center,
1501 W. Henderson St. in Cleburne
Fridays and Saturdays—7:30 pm
For more information or to purchase tickets go to:
www.carnegieplayers.org or call 682-317-3644