Stage Centre Productions’ Arsenic and Old Lace is Ridiculous and Hilarious
Stage Centre Productions’ decision to stage Joseph Kesselring’s dark comedy Arsenic and Old Lace was a bold choice. The show was first seen in 1941 and runs the risk of being dated with its references. I was worried that as a young whippersnapper, the jokes could fly right over my head. Luckily, the sharp writing and devious humour proves the play is a classic that seems to have no expiration date.
Arsenic and Old Lace is about the Brewster family, which suffers from the genetic disposition of insanity. As Mortimer Brewster, played by Luke Slade, states: “Insanity runs in my family…It practically gallops.” The insanity shows most easily with his brother Teddy Brewster, played by Scott McNabney. Teddy believes he is Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. His delusions lead him to dress in full adventure gear, blow a bugle to announce his presence, and shout “Bully!” whenever he’s excited.
The other members of the family are less innocent in their actions. Mostly because they keep murdering people. There’s Jonathan Brewster, played by Robert Glen, the long lost brother who has caused many deaths during his travels around the world. He has a face that has been surgically altered by his drunk associate Dr. Einstein, played by J.B Pierre Rajotte. Actor Robert Glen and director Scott Griffin do a good job of presenting Jonathan in the most unnerving way possible. His face is stiff, his voice monotone, and his eyes are always too wide. What could be mistaken for poor acting is actually a clever way of showing Jonathan’s detachment from humanity.
On the other hand, there are the elderly aunts Abby and Martha Brewster, who are as sweet and deadly as a poison pie. The two women have taken it upon themselves to be Angels of Mercy. They take in old single men as lodgers and poison them so that they don’t have to suffer in loneliness. Along with their nephew Teddy, they prevent the play from being a twisted melodrama and transform it into an unforgettable comedy. I kept laughing at Abby and Martha’s ridiculous priorities. They were more flustered about making sandiwches than about bodies buried in the cellar. Actresses Rita Lunham and Robin Phillips completely capture their characters.
Before I could even concentrate on the plot unfolding in front of me, I found myself drawn in by the impeccable set. It was unbelievable that I was sitting in a theatre and not in a living room. The incredible details put together by set designers Todd Davies and J.B Rajotte made me feel like more of a home intruder than theatre-goer. There were full stocked china sets in the polished cabinets. There were dozens of portraits and photographs on the walls. The house was elegant and beautiful. I thought it was brilliant to make a place look so inviting, while having a history of horrific events. Most shows and films about murder have sets that are dark and dank and run-down. The setting of Arsenic and Old Lace used a clever contrast of scene and plot, making the play all the more ridiculous.
In sum, the play was well-designed, well-acted, and a wonderful treat. I would highly recommend anyone to see it. Unless you are a lonely old man. If that is the case, staying home might be your safest priority.
- Arsenic and Old Lace is playing until October 11th at The Fairview Library Theatre (35 Fairview Mall)
- Shows run from Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm, with an additional matinee on Sundays at 2pm.
- Tickets are $27.50 at regular price and $22 for seniors/students. Tickets can be purchased online, or through the box office at 416-299-5557.
Photography credit: Stage Centre Productions. From left Robert Glen, Rita Lynham, and Robin Phillips.