Sisters Abby and Martha Brewster are two of the most charming, sweet elderly women you could ever hope to meet. That is, until you look at the body count. The two old ladies got their kicks at McLean School of Maryland's recent performance of Joseph Kesselring's dark comedy "Arsenic and Old Lace."
First performed in New York in 1941 and made into a movie in 1944, "Arsenic" details the events of one zany night in the Brewster household. Originally intended as a horror story, it was successfully turned into a comedy in which the good-natured Aunt Abby (Becky Polinger) and Aunt Martha (Lowry Adams) purport to do good deeds by poisoning lonely old men and burying them in the cellar. Much of the humor derives from the attempts of their nephew Mortimer (Ian Prince) to explain to his aunts why killing these men is wrong.
Tension runs high as more farcical characters pass through the house, including several clueless police officers, Mortimer's fiancee Elaine (Elisa Fernandez-Arias), the criminally insane Jonathan Brewster (H. Matt Garr) and Jonathan's deranged friend, Dr. Einstein (Davy Knutson). Garr's lively performance as Jonathan was a breath of fresh air, as was Sarah Ignatius as Teddy, Mortimer's sister, who humorously believes she is President Theodore Roosevelt. Her charges up San Juan Hill (aka the staircase) and journeys into Panama (aka the cellar) brought madcap energy to scenes where it was often lacking.
Despite some line flubs and confused cues, the actors all gave sincere performances, especially Polinger as a sugarcoated Aunt Abby. Though at times some actors stood hidden or with their backs to the audience, cast members projected clearly enough that microphones were not necessary.
Sound effects were prompt, and the lighting crew cleverly used a shadow effect to illustrate characters offstage in the cellar.
Though certain moments of comic timing were lacking, the cast showed some understanding of this delightful play. With a hilarious script and true enthusiasm, McLean School's "Arsenic and Old Lace" exhibited an earnest effort from all.
Thomas S. Wootton High School
The McLean School of Maryland's rendition of "Arsenic and Old Lace" fused poison and good intentions to offer comedic ingenuity and a lighthearted farce.
Joseph Kesselring's "Arsenic and Old Lace" opened on Broadway in 1941 and ran for three years. Abby and Martha Brewster, two sisters known for kindness and generosity, are determined to end the frustrations and loneliness of the men looking to stay in their house. Their plan, to poison each with elderberry wine, results in 13 bodies. Tension arises as Jonathan, their evil nephew, returns to the house hoping to dispose of his latest murder victim, creating competition between the dear, demented sisters and the sick and twisted Jonathan.
Becky Polinger encapsulated the passion of Abby Brewster. Her voice and shuffled movement brought consistency and sensitivity to the stage. Her sister and sidekick, Martha, played by Lowry Adams, added poise and energy to the show. Ian Prince's Mortimer remained true to his complex character, shifting emotions with ease.
The supporting cast was highlighted by Sarah Ignatius's Teddy and Becky Schwartz's Lt. Rooney, as both infused energy and confidence into their roles. Despite fluctuations in characters and missed comedic timing, Schwartz's consistency brought a fresh energy to the stage that echoed her dead-on timing.
Technically, the show was successful. The lighting, designed by Paul Bersoff, was simple yet effective. The set, though cluttered and busy, demonstrated the chaos of the plot and allowed the characters to embody the story's commotion.
Throughout the performance, some of the lines were rushed, reducing the credibility of the dialogue and hindering the power of the comedic elements. The cast, however, demonstrated a strong ability to support one another, and carried each other through the show well.
A challenging play for any theater, the McLean School of Maryland's "Arsenic and Old Lace" was commendable, garnering laughter and smiles. The vibrant performances took Kesselring's clever story and created a lighthearted romp through life's unpredictable turns.
Yorktown High School
H. Matt Garr ties up Ian Prince during a dress rehearsal of the McLean School of Maryland's production of "Arsenic and Old Lace."