Ottawa Little Theatre’s second play of it’s 105th season is the enduring classic, Arsenic and Old Lace. If there is a better play to stage around the Halloween season I don’t know what it would be. It is dark and creepy enough, but peppered with humour and spiced with a little bit of romance. It is the pumpkin pie of theatre; both a trick and a treat.
The characters are already well known to fans of the the classic 1944 Frank Capra film with Cary Grant. The sweet little old ladies that bury lonely gentlemen in the basement have a nephew that thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt, another that is a menacing international criminal and a third that is a theatre critic in love with the preacher’s daughter. Add in some dim witted police officers and sure fire one liners and that’s how to construct a near perfect black comedy. Written by Joseph Kesselring in 1939 it first premiered on Broadway in 1941 and was a welcome distraction from the war that was occurring in Europe at the time.
I sat down in the comfortable seat with a remarkable amount of legroom in the newly renovated auditorium. There were ooohs and aaahs from the audience as the curtain rose on Andrea Vecsei’s gorgeous set and the audience burst into applause. The rich burgundy walls were adorned with sconce lighting and a chandelier hung in the dining room. By the stage right entrance there was a tall staircase leading to the upstairs bedrooms. Upstage of the living room was the exit downstairs to the cellar and stage right an upstage door that leads to the kitchen and behind the window seat a bay window that leads outside towards the garden and the cemetery.
It is a fine, balanced cast, but the spinster aunts require special mention. Abby Brewster played by Sarah Hearn is as pragmatic and sensible as any homicidal lunatic you’d want to meet. When her more doddery sister Martha played delightfully sweet and naive by Janet Banigan enters the picture things really start to take off. The pair’s matter of fact banter over their truly horrific killing spree is some of the best work in the play. Paul Desmarais is spot on as Teddy Brewster the jovial brother that believes he is Teddy Roosevelt. He has a gleeful bravado every time he leads the charge up Bunker Hill or blasts his bugle, an oft repeated gag of the evening.
Kurt Shantz is Mortimer Brewster, a theatre critic who hates theatre and loves the preacher’s daughter. His funniest moments are his double takes and shrieks as bodies seem to be popping up everywhere. Mary Whalen plays Mortimer’s fiance Elaine Harper. She pops back and forth in an emotional ping pong of a romance wanting to either kiss Mortimer or run away to escape his decidedly odd behaviour.
Paul Williamson as the gangster brother Jonathon Brewster is the most menacing character on stage. He looks like Boris Karloff and his body language is like the mummy as he shuffles deliberately across the stage. He is aided by his mad genius sidekick, Dr. Einstein played by Paul Laroche who has to skillfully tiptoe his way around the house and try to get while the getting is good. This is no easy task in a house that seems to be constantly visited by policemen.
The production is lighthearted and fun Halloween fare. Director Brian Cano has assembled a cast that obviously enjoys themselves and things proceed at a good pace without rushing. This is a classic play that is a good choice for Canada’s longest running community theatre and an even better choice as we head into the season of ghosts and goblins and things that go bump in the night. Don’t be scared. It’s all in good fun.
Reviewed by Jim Murchison.
Written By: Joseph Kesselring
Director: Brian Cano
Assistant Director: Nadine Cheney
Lighting Design Larry Davies
Costume Design Gillian Siddiqui
Sarah Hearn Abby Brewster
Stephen Beneteau Rev. Dr. Harper
Dan Desmarais Teddy Brewster
Howard Kaplan Officer Brophy
Ryan Van Buskirk Officer Klein
Janet Banigan Martha Brewster
Mary Whalen Elaine Harper
Kurt Shantz Mortimer Brewster
Bill Milner Mr. Gibbs (and dead bodies)
Paul Williamson Jonathan Brewster
Claude Laroche Dr. Einstein
George Koutsos Officer O’Hara
Philippe Gagnon Lieutenant Rooney
Running: October 25 – November 11, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.
Matinee: October 29 & November 5, 2017 at 2:00 p.m.