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Arsenic & Old Lace

a Comedy
by Joseph Kesslring

COMPANY : New London Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : New London Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 4797

SHOWING : October 16, 2015 - November 01, 2015



We meet the charming and innocent ladies who populate their cellar with the remains of socially and religiously "acceptable" roomers; the antics of their brother who thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt; and the activities of the other brother—these require no further description or amplification here.​

Director Richard Diaz
Crew Rebecca Carrico
Jonathan David Allen
Einstein Chris Heraghty
Gibbs Bob Hoover
Teddy Brian Jones
Ms. Witherspoon Lucien Lockhart
Dr. Harper/Rooney Randy Reyes
Mortimer John Riggle
Abby Cat Roche
Elaine Heidi Siberon
Klein Justin Thompson
Martha Paula Thompson
Brophy Marie Violette
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by playgoer
Monday, November 2, 2015
"Arsenic and Old Lace" is a proven crowd-pleaser. After a less-than-enthralling production in 2008, in which not all the double-cast leading ladies had the opportunity to nail down their lines, New London Theatre is bringing it back in a more delightful production. This time, the two old ladies are actually actresses far younger than the roles call for, and they have their lines down pat. That includes the lines on their faces, which come from aging makeup that appears pretty obvious in the cozy confines of the current theatre. On a larger stage, the makeup would more successfully mask their youth, although their performances (especially Paula Thompson’s posture as Martha) do a pretty good job of conveying age.

Director Richard Diaz has designed a set, sound, and lighting that work extremely well for the production. The set doesn’t have an imposing staircase, but enough of one to make Teddy’s charges up San Juan Hill effective. The lines of the walls are varied and there are a lot of doors, which help minimize the visual impact of the sub-standard flats making up the walls. The muddy brown color of the walls and various decorations on them also help disguise any deficiencies. A nice touch is a visible brick exterior wall through the window stage left. Scene-setting music is period-appropriate and action-appropriate to a delightful degree. Lighting is inventive, with the body-switching scene done in complete blackness to a series of sound effects, which worked much better than I would have expected.

Mr. Diaz has also directed his actors to achieve a nice flow of action. The two old ladies (Cat Roche and Paula Thompson) and their nephew Mortimer Brewster (John Riggle) anchor the action, and they are standouts. Mr. Riggle’s performance, while vocally heading up an octave a little too frequently for my liking during times of stress, milks all the comic potential out of his role, while never going overboard. That balance isn’t seen in all the rest of the cast.

Randy Reyes, taking on two roles, is distinct in each of them, but plays them as if he were on film, without much facial expression and with too little concern for keeping his face visible to the audience. David Allen, on the other hand, as oldest brother Jonathan Brewster, projects to the rafters of a theatre 20 times the size of New London’s. The fact that he is obviously far younger than the actors playing his brothers doesn’t help his unsubtle performance.

Heidi Siberon, as Mortimer’s love interest Elaine Harper, is quite fetching and natural onstage, but doesn’t seem to have much of a comic flair (not that her role requires much of one). On the other hand, Brian Jones (as Teddy Brewster) and Ashton Murphy-Brown (as Officer O’Hara) give bigger-than-life performances that, while entertaining in their own right, tend to throw off the balance of the production. Everyone else fits nicely into the action, with Justin Thompson a particular delight as Officer Klein and Christopher Heraghty sliding nicely into the role of Dr. Einstein (apart from an earring and long fingernails that he seems to be trying to disguise by clenching his fists a lot).

Costumes, designed by Rebecca Carrico and the multi-talented Richard Diaz, suit the play perfectly. In terms of production values, "Arsenic and Old Lace" shows a lot of quality. Acting isn’t quite of the same caliber across the board, but enough so that the plot comes through clearly. My only directorial complaint is that the elderberry wine is served too generously in this production. The bottle seems to be drained a couple of times, and the first time it is served, two glasses are poured by the old ladies, when only one makes sense for that point in the play. (Having other characters pour from the bottle later would make more sense.)

All-in-all, this is an entertaining production of Joseph Kesselring’s classic comedy "Arsenic and Old Lace." Richard Diaz has obviously put a lot of effort into pulling together the elements of a successful production, aided by producer John Berlo and stage manager Rebecca Carrico, and that effort has paid off handsomely. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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