Carrigan, Ben Saylor and Pat Kearney entertain the crowd in
"Arsenic and Old Lace," which runs through Oct. 5
at Huntington Playhouse. (Photo credit: Tom Meyrose)
matrons take the stage at Huntington Playhouse
Published Sept. 24, 2008
Kesselring wrote a classic in the 1930s with his “Arsenic and Old
Lace”. It’s about two charming old ladies who perform works of charity.
One “charity” is to lure old men with no family to their home to
rent a room, decide that the men are lonely, and poison them with
What could be a one-gag play is in fact a comedy masterpiece.
“Arsenic and Old Lace” is filled with verbal and physical comedy
and has endured for three-fourths of a century. It is the current
attraction on the Huntington Playhouse stage.
Huntington’s audience is happiest when the theater
presents familiar shows. “Arsenic and Old Lace” should guarantee
a successful run.
The Brewster sisters make broth for a sick policeman’s
wife, find unused toys for charity, and kill lonely old men. They
are also completely insane, but with the veneer of charm.
Their nephew, Mortimer, also seems crazy. He’s a theater
critic—and hates most of what he has to see. Mortimer’s brother,
Jonathan, bears a resemblance to Boris Karloff and lives the roles
the movie-monster played. Uncle Teddy thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt,
and charges up the stairs wielding an imaginary saber. Policemen,
the minister next door, and other neighbors are only slightly less
The plot of “Arsenic and Old Lace” is driven by two
bodies, one the victim of Abby and Martha, and the other of Jonathan
and his sidekick Dr. Einstein. Bodies move, disappear, and each
of the twelve cast members get chances at double and even triple
Thelma Carrigan and Pat Kearney are Abby and Martha
Brewster. They know how to set a formal dinner table, and get one
of the show’s biggest laughs when they appear in their black mourning
dresses for a proper Lutheran burial service. It’s for one of their
victims, you see.
Ben Saylor is an energized Mortimer and works to balance
the show’s physical comedy demands with his romance for preacher’s
daughter Elaine. Marissa Sertich as Elaine, especially in the second
and third acts, shows perfect timing and comic brilliance. What
could be a “pedestrian” performance is an “inspired” one with Sertich.
Mike Kunikis as criminal-brother Jonathan, and Bobby
Thomas as deluded brother Teddy are good in the roles that were
more “contemporary” in the 1930’s. Both craft their roles to make
them accessible to today’s audiences. That is not an easy feat.
Dale Hruska does not act often enough, and when he
does, audiences love him. As Dr. Einstein, he gives the solid performance
of a professional and never detracts from others who are on stage.
Tripping over furniture, cowering from his violent partner-in-crime,
and prideful of his face-changing surgeries, Hruska’s Dr. Einstein
Director Dave MacKeigan clearly understands this show
and has molded the cast to a unified ensemble. I wish he could quicken
the pace to shorten the running time. The production has some tedious
moments, and a brisker pace would leave nothing out and make the
show more satisfying to the audience. “Arsenic and Old Lace” has
a three-act structure which is difficult for today’s audiences.
“Arsenic and Old Lace” runs through October 5. Huntington
Playhouse has a few special “Patron Appreciation Nights” with all
seats at $10, a bargain. Give them a call at (440) 871-8333 for
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