Arsenic and Old Lace by Joseph Kesselring

Making Family Insanity Hilarious in Stockbridge

By: - Jul 31, 2017

Arsenic and Old Lace
By Joseph Kesselring
Directed by Gregg Edelman
Scenic Design, Randall Parsons; Costumes, Hunter Kaczorowski; Lighting, Alan Edwards; Sound, Scott Killian; Wig Designer, J. Jared Janas
Cast: Katie Birenboim (Elaine Harper), Ryan Chittaphong (Officer Klein), Mia Dillon (Martha Brewster), Timothy Gulan (Teddy Brewster), Harriet Harris (Abby Brewster), Walter Hudson (Mr. Gibbs/Mr. Witherspoon), Gerry McIntyre (Officer O’Hara), Graham Rowat (Mortimer Brewster), Tom Story (Dr. Einstein), Matt Sullivan (Jonathan Brewster), Michael Sullivan (Officer Brophy), Walton Wilson (The Rev. Dr. Harper/Lt. Rooney)
Berkshire Theatre Group
Fitzpatrick Main Stage
Stockbridge, MA
July 27 -  August 19

Isn’t it a good time for a few laughs?

As they say, laughter is the best medicine, and if you are in need of a dose, get tickets to see Joseph Kesselring’s classic Arsenic and Old Lace at the Fitzpatrick Main Stage in  Stockbridge MA.

Kesselring’s play, directed with punch by Gregg Edelman, originally played on Broadway from 1941-44 (1,444 performances).  It’s hard to imagine making a viable comedy, let alone a Broadway hit, from the true story of a Connecticut woman who was a serial killer,

But that is what Kesselring did, and we can all benefit from his talent and have a very enjoyable experience.  A traditional, three-act play, a bit long, the excellent ensemble cast carries the story along at a fast clip and, at times, with great hilarity.

Here’s the story: Mortimer Brewster (Graham Rowat in a super performance), returns to his aunts’ home in Brooklyn, to share the news of his engagement to Elaine, the girl next door.

Mortimer is a theatre critic who hates theatre, and describes his boring job in some detail, to the great amusement of many theatre critics, myself included.  Abby and Martha Brewster, amusingly played by Tony-nominated Mia Dillon and Tony Award-winning Harriet Harris, fuss over Mortimer and his new fiancé.

Filling out the family is Teddy Brewster (energetically played by Timothy Gulan), who believes he is Teddy Roosevelt, and often runs up the stairs charging with a bugle.

The Brewsters are well established in Brooklyn, and the set design by Randall Parsons, attests well to their history.  Their big old house, full of family portraits, gives a visual history of the family.  Introducing Elaine to his aunts as his fiancé, another brother comes up, Jonathan.  This is a surprise to Elaine, who has never met him.

In a hilarious turn of events, Mortimer discovers the body of a gentleman in the windowseat.  Rowat shines in displaying his comedic chops here (he starred in the drama Constellations at BTG last year with his wife Kate Baldwin displaying his versatility).

Harriet Harris and Mia Dillon as the Brewster Sisters are spot on as the crazy, lovable and loving sisters who are only trying to put these lonely old gents out of their misery.

And Teddy has been burying them in the cellar thinking they are victims of Yellow Fever.

The combined insanities in the family work well together!

The police are friendly with the Brewsters, who give to the community a great deal. And they visit frequently regarding Teddy’s noisy bugle playing and resulting neighbors’ complaints. 

Gerry McIntyre, as Officer O’Hara, gives an energetic, entertaining performance of a policeman who is a frustrated playwright.

As Mortimer becomes focused on protecting his aunts from the fate of being discovered, who should turn up but Jonathan, another serial killer in the family, accompanied by Dr. Einstein, his plastic surgeon.  That’s right, Jonathan has had his face redone to escape detection, and now looks like Boris Karlof.

Matt Sullivan as Jonathan is amply scary and Tom Story as Dr. Einstein is convincing as nervous, bumbling and ready to flee.  Jonathan in his own way has killed as many victims as his aunts.

The Third Act provides all the solutions to the dilemmas Mortimer faces, in trying to protect his aunts and Teddy, and finding a way to escape Jonathan’s evil.  And this is done with laughter to the end.

This insanely funny comedy holds up after all these years!