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Arsenic and old Lace
a Comedy
by Joseph Kesselring

COMPANY : The Renaissance Project [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Greater Travelers Rest Baptist Church [WEBSITE]
ID# 4447

SHOWING : April 19, 2013 - May 12, 2013



The Renaissance Project presents audience favorite "Arsenic and Old Lace." This delightfully dark comedy, which premiered in 1941, has been a hit around the world ever since. The story revolves around theater critic Mortimer Brewster, who's trying to announce to his family that he just got engaged. At the same time, he must juggle his eccentric clan's latest antics, and the resulting police visits. His lovable pair of spinster aunts have picked up a new hobby -- poisoning lonely old bachelors and burying them in their basement. Add-in one brother who believes he's Teddy Roosevelt at the Panama Canal and another brother who's on the run from the law and you have the recipe for a murderously good time and a classic American comedy.

Director Jeff Paige
Costumer Clint Horne
Jonathan Brewster Harry Alexander
Martha Brewster Lory Cox
Messrs. Gibbs & Witherspoon Richard Dillon
Officer Klein John Dixon
Elaine Harper Heather Hale
Officer O'Hara Alan Kachur
Officer Brophy Andrea Kantargis
Teddy Brewster Bob Lanoue
Mortimer Brewster Omer Mughal
Abby Brewster Peg Thon
Lieutenant Rooney Taylor Upchurch
Dr. Einstein & Rev. Dr. Harper Eric Westlake
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Waiting for the Gelatin to Jell
by playgoer
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Jeff Paige has directed The Renaissance Project's "Arsenic and Old Lace" with an uneven hand. He has inserted bits of physical comedy that sometimes work (Omer Mughal's Mortimer speeding across the stage, hurdling over or trodding on furniture) and sometimes don't (rapid-fire hat exchanging between Mortimer and Dr. Einstein). While putting a firm directorial stamp on these moments, he has let his actors improvise or insert lines that add nothing to Joseph Kesselring's taut script.

The acting is as uneven as the direction. Some performances are very good. Lory Cox, as Martha Brewster, and Peg Thon, as Abby Brewster, are a terrific pair of spinster sisters. Richard Dillon does good work in both of his roles, and Alan Kachur impresses in his second act appearance. The weak links are Eric Westlake, who has a halting delivery as both Reverend Harper and Dr. Einstein (although his German accent is good), and Harry Alexander, who is unconvincing as evil nephew Jonathan Brewster. Omer Mughel is attractive as good nephew Mortimer Brewster, but doesn't counter Heather Hale's flirtatious moves as Elaine Harper with anything approaching believable affection. No one is downright bad, but the cast hadn't jelled as of opening weekend.

On the technical side, there is also some unevenness. Costumes are generally good, but Elaine makes a baffling costume change after finding out that she and Mortimer aren't going to dinner and a play, but just to a play; her outfit suddenly becomes more elegant. Wigs are very wiggy on the two spinster aunts, and the other female hairdos don't convincingly suggest the timeframe of 1944. Bob Lanoue's look is naturally reminiscent of Teddy Roosevelt, but would have been enhanced by a bushy mustache (but not one as fake-looking as the one Richard Dillon sports as Mr. Witherspoon). The nicely proportioned set generally works well, but the staircase landing obviously has steps down just offstage, so it's impossible for the actors to suggest that they are ascending stairs from the landing. It's also odd that an imaginary window down right supposedly has a view of the cemetary, but a physical window up left is stated as being between the house and the cemetary.

Scene changes are accompanied by a tick-tock sound and low lights as the actors rearrange table settings and move to new places on stage before the lights come up fully. It's an interesting directorial touch, akin to a fast-forward button, but it tends to rob scene endings of applause.

"Arsenic and Old Lace" is such a strong classic play of the American theatre that it's hard not to be entertaining. Here, things start to catch fire in act two, but they can't make up for the awkwardness of portions of act one. The groundwork has been laid for a top-notch production, but the execution doesn't match the concept. Perhaps with more performances under their belts and with larger, more responsive audiences, the actors in this Renaissance Project production will let the script truly catch fire, delighting theatregoers from start to finish.


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