Westcliffe Center for the Performing Arts has done again. Following the theater’s tradition of opening the season with an American classic, director Scott Chapman, chose ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, an oldie but goodie by Joseph Kesselring. The original play opened in 1941 and after 1,444 performances, closed in June of 1944.
The play is a dark comedy. 12 deaths are at the loving hands of Abby and Martha Brewster, played by Lissa Miller and Bev Allen. The maiden aunts put single men out of their misery with a sip of elderberry wine laced with strychnine and “just a pinch of cyanide.” The sisters mean no harm; rather, they think that they are relieving the loneliness of men without family.
Abby and Martha are helped by their brother Teddy Brewster, played by Tim Stodola. Teddy believes that he is Teddy Roosevelt, and in that capacity, he is digging the Panama Canal in the basement of the family home. To Teddy’s mind, each corpse is a victim of Yellow Fever, and the canal proves to be a handy place for disposing the bodies.
A second brother, the malevolent Jonathan Brewster, is played by Dan Hiester. Jonathan is also into killing. Jonathan’s sidekick is Dr. Einstein played by “Frosty” Frostman. If you are killing people, having a plastic surgeon at your beck-and-call is handy for inventing a new identity.
The third Brewster brother is Mortimer, a drama critic. Clif Loucks plays Mortimer. Mortimer loves Elaine, played by Jenna Smith, but how can he marry Elaine when his entire family is deranged?
Not to be a ‘spoiler,’ I stop with the synopsis. What fun to think of the 1944 movie starring Cary Grant as Mortimer, Peter Lorre as Dr. Einstein, and Raymond Massey as Jonathan.
The set, designed by Scott Chapman and Scott Foster, is fabulous. There is the door to the outdoors, the door to the kitchen, the door to the basement, and steps leading up to the second floor. All those doors! And not once did a slamming door shake the entire wall! A first for community theater! The set pieces and the props are lovely and appropriate to the period. The cast is most excellent. In particular, Lissa Miller, Jenna Smith, Clif Loucks, Dan Hiester, and “Frosty” Frostman shine.
If you have heard that the play is long, that is true. Remember, the play was written before instant messaging and cell phones and self-driving cars. When the play first opened, World War II was underway. Sitting in the theater… in a creative space far removed from tanks, trenches, and warfare… was an escape that moviegoers whished to gone on forever.
Slow down. Take the time. Go see the play. Arsenic and Old Lace repeats next weekend, Friday May 19 and Saturday the 20th at 7:30 and Sunday the 21st at 2:00 p.m. And if you have not thought about buying a season ticket, consider doing so. If you are out-of-town for a particular show, pass your ticket on as a neighborly token of affection.