Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 1, 2008

Arsenic and Old Lace

New Century Theater, Northampton
through August 9, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

When a play has a convoluted plot propelled by laugh-out-loud dialog delivered by actors who know how to phrase for the desired effects and whose body language is in sync with whatever is transpiring, the audience is treated to a winner. New Century Theatre’s final production of this season, is the indefatigable "Arsenic and Old Lace." May it be revived forever!

What a combination of sounds signaled the audience’s enjoyment: giggles, titters, guffaws, belly laughs, and roars. Director Jack Neary has made sure nothing but first-class entertainment emanates from playwright Joseph Kesselring’s good-natured mayhem.

In 1939 Brooklyn, there lived in a charming Victorian house two maiden sisters of a certain age, whose sweetness was genuine. Their only defect was a misconception about the preferences of unmarried older men who had no family ties. These dear old girls’ lineage includes a flawed DNA belief such men are happier if their lives end – with the help of stoutly poisoned homemade elderberry wine. Their brother’s inheritance of the family affliction is the belief he is President Theodore Roosevelt. Their long-absent nephew, Jonathan, inherited the scariest version of the family’s mental aberrations: psychopathic killer. Their other nephew, Mortimer, a theater critic, who adores his aunts and they him, suffers the slings and arrows of any who are suspicious of theater people. During the space of only a few hours, he is exposed to startling truths: "Insanity runs in my family. In fact, it practically gallops!"

The casting is perfect. The spinsters, Margery Shaw’s Abby Brewster and Carol Lambert as Martha Brewster, are superb at fluttering or standing firm. Van Farrier is Teddy who frequently charges up the staircase (a stand-in for San Juan Hill) and disturbs neighbors with his bugle blasts. Phil Kilbourne’s Jonathan is mean as a snake and his sidekick, Dr. Einstein, played by Steve Brady, flashes a look of surprised comprehension that delights. Mortimer (David Mason) is urbane, befuddled, and in love with spunky Elaine (Sandra Blaney) who bears a strong resemblance to Priscilla Lane who played Elaine in the 1944 film version.

Arsenic and Old Lace is the antidote, at least for a few hours, to whatever may be driving you nuts.