If you only know Arsenic and Old Lace from the classic film version starring Cary Grant, you owe it to yourself to see it on stage, where you’ll discover that it is one the best of American farces, a farce with a delicious, odd-ball point of view and characters as memorable as they get.
If you do know Arsenic and Old Lace from the stage version as well, you can experience the delight of seeing theater critic Mortimer Brewster desperately trying to straighten out his family affairs with a new complication at the end of each act. (As Aunt Abby Brewster says of theater critics in the play, “someone has to do those things,” but this critic has never had as wild a ride as Mortimer.)
Mortimer (Craig Woolson, as sensible as his shoes until madness starts to happen) wants to help his family before getting married to Elaine Harper (Rebecca Morris.) All he wants to do is get his brother Teddy (Jason Sluyter) into a sanitarium. Seems Teddy believes is President Theodore Roosevelt. That’s simple enough until he finds out that his two very old-fashioned aunts, the women who raised him, have managed to quietly murder (for the best of reasons) 12 elderly men. The aunts, Abby Brewster and Martha Brewster (Jill Rogosheske and Mary Chalon, respectively) are pictures of innocence. They can’t imagine why anyone would be upset with their charity, after all, they give each victim a Christian funeral in the cellar. Just as Mortimer manages to get that situation in hand his long-lost brother Jonathon (Nick Santa Maria in eerie make-up: he looks more than a little like Frankenstein’s monster) shows up, coming in through the window. With him he brings Dr. Einstein, (the very funny Scott K. Ratner,) not Albert Einstein but a quack and very alcoholic plastic surgeon who has made several face changes for Jonathan as he evades the law for his 12 (or is it 11?) murders.
Add to that several policemen, slamming doors and a couple of black-outs, and you have just about as funny a play as you’ll see. The set is elegant, beautiful and just the kind of home where none of this should take place. The cast was delightful, though the shown should have move just a bit faster (it’s funnier that way.)
Details: (310) 544-0403, www.norriscenter.com
Venue: Norris Center for the Performing Arts
Location: 27570 Norris Center Drive, Rolling Hills Estates