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Arsenic & Old Lace at the Masquers

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By Theresa de Valence - Posted on 05 February 2007

Are you one of the thirteen people left in the world who has not yet seen Arsenic & Old Lace? Well, I was one and now I’m here to tell you this is an amusing script and nicely done; so get on it and go! This performance ends February 24, 2007.

The stage set is brilliant. (Rob Bradshaw and crew deserve big cheers) Seven stage exits give so much character and force that we feel when actors troop off to the basement or up the stairs, in spite of knowing the doors merely lead backstage.

Martha Brewster (Theo Collins)(photo, left) and Abby Brewster (Martha Leuhrmann) are two sisters who care greatly for their neighbours. That these elderly women are sweet and thoughtful (and sound perfectly sane) makes the lines they deliver all the more entertaining; they care for older, lonely gentlemen callers by poisoning them, a kindly service which they provide to relieve these men of their otherwise burdensome existence. This they then shortly follow with a burial service of the appropriate Christian flavour. (Photo by Jerry Telfer)

Teddy Brewster (Michael O’Brien) is a funny lunatic whose personality oscillates between stately and ridiculous. Before the play has been going very long, it all seems perfectly normal, which in itself is preposterous. Michael’s performance is nominated for the Actor Most Enjoying Himself award; he has done a fantastic job, though he’s not alone. In the lobby after the performance, Michael was overheard to say that he particularly enjoyed playing the rôle of an eight year old.

Rev. Dr. Harper (Dave Wilkerson) is a pleasant, slightly repressed minister living in the church next door, and natters sweetly to the nice old dames. He is concerned about having to wait up for his daughter to return from a date with Mortimer (because proximity to the theatre means that Mortimer might someday take an interest in it, alas!).

Officer Brophy (Noah Gomes), Officer Klein (Joe Torres) & Lieutenant Rooney (John Wilson) play policemen with quasi-Irish accents which, for me, is annoying. I have complained before that community theatre actors speaking in accents they don’t own renders the language less comprehensible. For me, that makes the play less enjoyable. However, the audience did laugh a lot during the play, their ears must be more tolerant.

Officers Brophy and Klein are brash young men easily duped by the apparent kindness and generosity of the aunts, therefore they supply a number of “straight lines” for other characters to trip over.

Rooney is an older cop with a stronger and more entrenched attitude, but still hopelessly blind to the true circumstances surrounding the aunts. All of the policemen are otherwise enjoyable characters.

Mortimer Brewster (Dan Garfinkle) is a dissatisfied and reluctant drama critic with an amusing scheme to save time in his review writing. According to his aunts, he was much happier covering real estate. Of him one of his aunts says “to Mortimer the theatre has been pretty small potatoes. He needs something bigger to criticize - something like the human race.” Mortimer is not a romantic character; he is testy, stiff and rather patronizing, but he does have several bright moments: having discovered what his aunts have done, he does silly things with his job, a telephone and the aunts; having proposed to Elaine, he tries to take it back; and more.

Elaine Harper (Steph Peek) is not at all pleased with Mortimer’s fickle behaviour and expresses herself most emphatically. She is a wannabe not-so-good girl and therefore most disappointed that they won’t be seeing a musical when they go to the theatre, because a musical makes Mortimer a more interesting man on the drive home. She elegantly promises naughty in her looks and her voice. A smartly dressed Elaine struts across the stage, purposefully ending each promenade in an elegant finished pose, highlighting her beautiful legs, attracting everyone’s but Mortimer’s attention.

Jonathon Brewster (David Bintinger) is a gangster emulating, one suspects, the actor in the original production of the play, Boris Karloff. He feels a bit like someone playing someone playing a rôle, as though the rôle was not quite internalized, but, on the whole, I enjoyed him. He is a person who looks like he has been picked for his rôle because of how sinister he looks, however his stage self is likely a combination of acting and makeup. He succeeded in frightening me long before he suggested that a few miscellaneous people should die. He also delivered amusing lines in an absolute deadpan. Priceless!

Dr. Einstein (C. Conrad Cady) wins my vote for star of the show. And the great tragedy is that I can’t even begin to tell you all the funny bits without giving away parts of the play that you will enjoy, particularly if they come as a surprise. Conrad’s German accent is the only one which stands muster. His costume looks thrown together so perfectly we don’t even realize he’s been dressed up (or should I say “down,” in this case?). His rôle flirts with drunkenness, obsequiousness, and fear of Jonathon, all of which he rolls together in a manner that looks fluid and incredibly easy. A true sign of genius that!

Officer O’Hara (Simon Patton) is an effervescent and boisterous man with a great deal of self-admiration. It is with great joy that he informs us about the play he intends to write. Ages and ages later, we find him still discussing the play. Like everyone’s, Simon’s quasi Irish accent is lousy, in spite of his preferential status as a real Brit. Having seen Simon before, I expected a magnificent performance, and I was not disappointed. Simon’s performance is also nominated for the Actor Most Enjoying Himself award; in this production he is much larger than he used to be, no doubt that was his rôle expanding all over the stage.

Mr. Gibbs (Edward Collins) is an old man with a mere 15 seconds of fame in this play. He seems an eminently suitable character, in itself an accolade.

Mr. Witherspoon (Jerry Telfer) is the Superintendent of Happy Dale, the long term care facility to which the aunts wish to commit Teddy when they pass on. This is the first time I have seen Jerry in front of the lights in place of his usual spot behind the camera. Though a cameo appearance, he is fundamental to the plot. Except for the size of his suit, it is a serious and sweet performance.

The more familiar I become with theatre, the more amazed I am at the result. Forty people got together, and, directed by Betsy Bell Ringer, took flat words off the page, gave them colour and sound, made a story come alive, made the audience hoot with laughter, and gave us all, actors and audience alike, a feeling of having participated in something marvelous today.

An enjoyable show!