Throughout the school year, Fairfax Extra publishes occasional reviews of high school shows written by student critics under the guidance of faculty mentors as part of the Critics and Awards Program, also known as Cappies. Now in its seventh season, the program recognizes the achievements of young performers, writers, directors and stage crews. For information, visit www.cappies.com.
Family feuds can arise over all sorts of minutiae: socks left on the floor, a picky eater's refusal of vegetables, a dead body found in a window seat.
In Edison High School's recent rollicking production of "Arsenic and Old Lace," elderly sisters Martha and Abby Brewster are utterly befuddled by their nephew Mortimer's worry over the last item. A little strange, yes, but the play is a farce that was written by Joseph Kesselring in 1939. Cary Grant starred in the 1944 film version.
Mortimer is a sarcastic drama critic who discovers that his two sweet, elderly aunts have killed 12 lonely old men with poisoned elderberry wine (as an act of "charity") and buried them in the cellar.
To make matters worse, Mortimer's brother, the sadistic Jonathan, has escaped prison and returned to his aunts' house, with a German plastic surgeon named Dr. Einstein and yet another dead body in tow. Due to Dr. Einstein's rather unprofessional perpetual intoxication, Jonathan's plastic surgery was botched, giving him an uncanny resemblance to Boris Karloff.
The cheerful energy of the cast greatly benefited the ensemble-based show. In the role of the put-upon Mortimer, Will Hicks had priceless facial expressions and proved himself a master of the double take. The duo of Jonathan and Dr. Einstein (Trevor Britvec and Landon Randolph, respectively) were completely in tune with the show's farcical sensibility. Randolph created an impressively well-rounded character in Dr. Einstein, a role that would be easy to reduce to an overacted stereotype. In the role of Officer O'Hara, an overeager drunken playwright-cum-police officer who comes to the house at exactly the wrong time, Caitlin Messinger elicited well-earned waves of audience laughter.
Costume designers Nicki Merz, Abbey Cantolina and Olivia Cheak did an admirable job designing period-appropriate, attractive costumes that reflected each character wearing them.
Likewise, Hieu Tran and Andrew O'Neal's lighting design provided realistic lighting that gave a proper sense of darkness while allowing the audience a clear view of the action when the lights in the aunts' house were turned off. Tran and Chris Witt's sound design was smooth and unobtrusive.
Despite a few late entrances and slipped technical cues in this fast-paced show, Edison's "Arsenic and Old Lace" was a delightful diversion that could make any family seem normal.
St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School
Everyone's family is a little eccentric, but the Brewsters take the cake. After all, not many families can say one nephew is Teddy Roosevelt (sort of), one is a homicidal maniac with a resemblance to Boris Karloff and, oh, by the way, there are 12 bodies buried in the basement, all put there by their sweet little old aunts Abby and Martha. Add to that an erstwhile fiancee, a bumbling police force and a startled theater critic, and you have Edison High School's side-splitting production of "Arsenic and Old Lace."
Joseph Kesselring's 1939 black comedy follows the escapades of Mortimer (Will Hicks), a theater critic, as he deals with his aunts Abby and Martha's (played by Ally Foreman and Molly Lewis, respectively) habit of mixing arsenic in their guests' wine. Hicks was a dynamo of frantic energy, flying all over the stage, using equal amounts of physical and verbal comedy and rattling off snarky lines. Teddy Kavros, as Teddy Brewster, who thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt, earned many a laugh as the quirky, lovable character. Trevor Britvec played a sinister Jonathan, stalking rather than walking on stage and playing superbly off his partner in crime, Dr. Herman Einstein. As Einstein, Landon Randolph was a font of hilarity whether he was cringing in fear or trying to kill someone.
Aunts Abby and Martha shined. Foreman exuded a cuddly absentmindedness and charm as Abby, and Lewis gave Martha bright energy and glee. Lewis was especially convincing at playing her character's age.
Hieu Tran and Andrew O'Neal's cozy lighting nicely illuminated both the actors and the dazzling set, with a few spooky effects to add interest. Katherine Lambertson and Kim Collins's costumes were period accurate and nicely detailed.
The actors never had trouble being heard, and their energy was unflagging. But there seemed to be several odd points when the pacing slowed and cues were not picked up right away, especially in the second act. A few actors occasionally tripped over their lines. Surprisingly these things didn't affect the torrent of comedy, which was maintained through the curtain call.
From its uproarious start to its foreboding finish, "Arsenic and Old Lace" was to die for. It seems nothing could poison Edison High School's talent.
Herndon High School