CRESTVIEW — The production of “Arsenic and Old Lace” by the new community theatre troupe is more than a delightful evening of murder, mayhem and elderberry wine. It is a significant milestone in the north county’s cultural life, marking the return of community theatre. That the show is sheer delight from start to finish is just the icing on the cake.
Joseph Kesselring’s magnificent black comedy has delighted American theatre audiences for decades. With its old-timey, stately veneer, it’s tempting to think you’re about to settle in for an evening of dated drama and hokey jokes that might have evoked howls in the 1940s but just seem dumb today. Not so.
Kesselring’s tale of gracious murderesses, their frazzled, recently engaged nephew, his preacher’s daughter fiancée, his gangster brother, a mad plastic surgeon, another sibling who thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt, and a cop on the beat who’d rather be a playwright, remains as fun and fresh today as when it was written in 1940.
The as-yet unnamed Crestview community theatre group bringing it to life on the Warriors Hall stage has done a marvelous job of evoking the ambience of an old Brooklyn house. The set, under the direction of Eric Wintersteen, is perfectly overdecorated with ample opportunities for exits and entrances, door slamming and Teddy Roosevelt’s frequent charges up the San Juan Hill of the main staircase.
Coupled with delightful costuming and makeup, the visual appeal of the show is as important as the acting, and for the most part, the performers were bang on target. Particularly enjoyable is Sandra Peters as spinster Abby Brewster. I’ve been dying to see Sandra act since she first arrived in Crestview and told me she’d been on New York stages.
We were delighted with the performance of Crestview High School senior Jack Barr as the frazzled Mortimer, theatre critic nephew who discovers Abby and her sister, Martha, played convincingly by Asleigh Gonyea, have been performing acts of mercy by poisoning lonely old men seeking to rent a room in their rambling old home.
“This has developed into a very bad habit,” Mortimer tells his aunties when he learns they have buried 12 victims in the basement.
Jeremy Faust was particularly well cast as evil brother Jonathan Brewster, who returns after 20 years of gangsterhood around the world. The role was originated by Boris Karloff, hence multiple references to the famed Universal Pictures monster actor. As plastic surgeon Dr. Einstein, Ronald Walker seemed to channel Peter Lorre, who made the role famous in the 1944 film, bringing the character lots of delightful menace.
Sean Peters, Sandra Peters’ husband, as the play-writing policeman Officer O’Hara, and Teagan Faust as Mortimer’s fiancée Elaine, topped the list of favorite performers.
A few technical glitches were ably covered, including Walker quipping, “Must be a short” and banging the wall when a lighting miscue caused a flicker.
I might also gently offer a criticism about the casting of Officer Brophy, ably played by Victoria Martin who butched up her performance of what is usually a male role. Next time, just make it a female patrolman. There’s always an element of distraction when a member of the opposite sex plays a role meant for the other.
But that little bone is minor. Overwhelmingly the evening was a delight. Filled seats in Warriors Hall indicated the community craves live theatre, even when two shows were running simultaneously, as happened last weekend. And now that we know the hall in the Whitehurst Municipal Building can accommodate theatricals, it’s time for the city to put in some theatrical lighting. It’ll only increase the value of Warriors Hall as a community resource.
And, from a purely selfish standpoint, I can’t wait to see the hall enhanced for our new community theatre troupe’s next production. If it’s anything like “Arsenic and Old Lace,” it’ll be another sell-out.