"Arsenic and Old Lace"

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:17

    Reviewed by K.J. Walters Elderberry wine was served at Monroe-Woodbury High School in the recent Drama Club production of "Arsenic and Old Lace." A combination of the comic and the spooky-weird, it tells the story of insanity as it runs in the Brewster family ("Runs? It practically gallops!"). Mortimer Brewster, a theater critic who hates the theater, is about to marry Elaine, who pursued him until he caught her. When he expresses doubts about passing madness onto another generation, she replies, "If you think you're going to get out of marrying me by pleading insanity, you're crazy!" But his qualms are reasonable. His brother Jonathan, who looks like Boris Karloff because his plastic surgeon saw "Frankenstein" just before the operation, is a serial killer. Mortimer's other brother (played by Brian Dunne) thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt, yells "Charge!" each time he runs up the stairs, digs the Panama Canal in the basement, and blasts his trumpet late at night, disturbing the neighbors and attracting the police (played by Becca Babin, Kieran Walters, Heather Forman, and Joey Taibi). But Elaine points to the level-headedness of Mortimer's sweet aunts, Abby and Martha, not knowing that they have been "charitably" pouring poisoned wine for lonely old men and burying them in the basement - in the locks of the Panama Canal, of course. When Mortimer objects to their morbid hobby, Aunt Abby is exclaims, "We let you do things YOU like to do. Why can't you let us do things WE like to do!" The Brewster Aunts are the center of the play and are ably played by Katie Mulholland and Sarah Fields. Jennifer McNulty as Elaine showed solid versatility as a cross between a vamp and Betty Boop. Heather Forman brought inspired inventiveness, wonderful stage energy, and physical and vocal comedy to her role as Officer O'Hara, virtually stealing the show when she was on, but then inexplicably continuing to draw attention to herself, like off-stage noise, when her scenes had ended. Chloe Tompkins, always a solid actress, may have given her most engaging performance as the alcoholic plastic surgeon Dr. Einstein. Nathaniel Mengaziol's fine effort as Jonathan Brewster would have been helped with make-up suitable for a horror movie monster. Scott Watson as Rev. Harper and Michael Lennon as Mr. Gibbs brought distinct, well-articulated characterizations to their roles. And Chris Salerno as Mortimer was appropriately bemused as the only character to recognize the insanity around him. The sanatorium director, believably played by Danielle Devine, thinks that the aunts should be committed for claiming to have 12 bodies buried in their basement, but only Mortimer knows that the Brewster ladies are really jolly, pathological killers. While the set was all one could ask for, the gothic-comic tone of the play could have been enhanced with appropriate incidental music. All in all, the Drama Club offered another enjoyable evening of theater. One only wishes that more than two performances could be presented, for each production is a too-brief local cultural treasure. K.J. Walters teachers English, speech, and theater at SUNY Rockland and has acted in a hundred plays.