Arsenic and Old Lace

By Joseph Kesselring

Director: Morris Panych Set design: Ken MacDonald Lighting design:Alan Brodie Costume design:Nancy Bryant Sound design: John McCulloch Stage Manager: Caryn Fehr

Venue: The Stanley Theatre
Dates: 23 January 23 February 23 2003

Reviewer: Jane Penistan

Given a stellar cast and a perceptive, experienced director, this trusty old war-horse canters along at a merry pace. It is a nostalgic pleasure to see the opening curtain rise on the first act and to experience three acts once again. The physicality and pace of this production demand this latter for the sake of the actors, who are constantly running up a long staircase, entering and leaving by climbing through the window, or beating a hasty retreat through the trap to the Panama Canal and burial vault in the cellar. Even entry and exit through the more normal house front door are precipitate. All the cast move at break neck speed for some good reason.

Ken MacDonald's set is the interior of an old house in Brooklyn, with a long table upstage centre, backed by a long staircase running from a stage left front door, to disappear right into the fly loft. The furniture is dated and somewhat shabby. Candles and candelabra abound and the use of the electric light keeps the lighting crew busy. The costumes of the two eccentric ladies are old fashioned for 1941, but that of the younger neighbour early 40's chic. The men are equally appropriately dressed, with Teddy, who thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt admirably attired for South America, the Army or the president himself. The other men fare as well, including the policemen.

As the charitable ladies who take in homeless old men as boarders, Patti Allan and Nicola Cavendish play together with sisterly understanding as Martha and Abby Brewster, and complement each other brilliantly. They are completely believable as hospitable if batty, good old-fashioned housekeepers, accustomed to entertaining the local clergy and their nephews' friends.

They are marvelously tolerant of their deranged nephew Teddy's (Stephen E. Miller) infatuations, defending him against the complaining neighbours and the sorely tried local police (Matt Olver and Doug Herbert), when his bugle calls and rallying shouts to charge become too noisy. Rounding out the unusual but familial family, is the harassed youngest brother, Mortimer, a frenetic theatre critic, played by Tom Scholte. He is not aware of his aunts' generosity to various homeless vagrants in the form of home made elderberry wine, and is horrified when he finds a body in the window seat.

He is also engaged to the daughter of the neighbouring clergyman, Elaine Harper, vivaciously portrayed by Jillian Fargey. The arrival of the missing brother, the violent Jonathan, an escaped convict (Ted Cole), and his plastic surgeon friend, the sinister Dr. Einstein, sinuously interpreted by Colin Heath, cause more turmoil. A novel writing policeman. Shawn MacDonald, and an obtuse police lieutenant, Peter Anderson, further complicate matters, and disrupt the aunts' funeral arrangements for the latest victim of elderberry wine and yellow fever at the underground Panama Canal.

Also in the cast is Allan Gray, who presents two delightful cameos, the Reverend Harper, and the latest victim of the Brewsters, Mr. Witherspoon. The unexpected and ingenious curtain call is not to be missed.

Without the excellent direction and splendid acting, this dated piece could become tedious and the macabre undertones too apparent. As it is, it is a breathless, funny well acted and well presented evening's entertainment.

For tickets and reservations and information about special performances and student tickets call the box office at 604-6871644.

© 2003, Jane Penistan