Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Arsenic and Old Lace"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2004 by Tony Annicone

"Arsenic and Old Lace"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The Players second show of their 96th season is the 1940's comedy "Arsenic and Old Lace". It takes place in an old Victorian house in Brooklyn. This black comedy is about two sweet spinster sisters, Abby and Martha who bump off elderly gentlemen with no families by serving them poisoned elderberry wine and their three nephews, Teddy who thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt, Jonathan who has killed 12 people and wants to kill one more to beat his aunts record and Mortimer who is the only sane one in the family. (Although he is a drama critic in the show so he might be as sane as one might think.) There are many other assorted characters coming in and out of the show including four cops, a minister, his daughter who is in love with Mortimer, a drunken doctor who is really a hoodlum, a would be victim of the ladies, two corpses and the rest home owner. Director Richard Crowley chooses the best people for these wild and crazy roles, making each character different from the other and taking the audience on an enjoyable comic madcap romp all night long.

Richard not only directs this show but also plays the head villain of the piece, Jonathan. He plays this mad dog killer wonderfully. His physical presence and threatening mannerisms send chills up the spines of the audience and his horrible facial appearance as a Boris Karlof look alike adds to Richard's venomous portrayal. His strength as a director comes through in the blocking and in the acting strength of his cast. The fantastic two story set is designed by Laura Mernoff while the gorgeous costumes especially the aunts and Elaine's are by the talented Sue Bergeron.Stage manager Karen Friend keeps things running smoothly backstage while hard working first time producer, Iain Lawson also runs the sound and Kyle Gamache runs the lighting. Richard and his staff do a bang up job on this comedy, making it a show to be very proud of.

The two wonderful actress playing Abby and Martha are Patricia Cousineau and Bonnie DerManelian. Their line delivery is excellent and their mannerisms make them appear to be sisters in real life. They run the gamut of emotions from sweet to wacky, to frightened and back again. Their stalking of their final victim is a hoot and their reason for killing their victims is because it is part of their charitable work. Patricia and Bonnie are excellent as these two spinsters with enormous amounts of dialogue. Brava.

Jim Brown as Mortimer handles this role with topnotch comic timing. Although this drama critic role can appear to be pompous at times, his aunts and girlfriend bring him back down to earth as do the many comic and dangerous situations he finds himself in. His girlfriend, Elaine is played perfectly by Kathleen McNiff, a beautiful brunette. She gives this underwritten role the spunk and backbone it needs to make her into a strong heroine. One of the funniest scenes is when Elaine dips Mortimer back to give him a great big kiss. The interplay between Jim and Kathleen is right on the money. The biggest scene stealer in this show is Rick Braun as Teddy. His character is hilarious as he runs up the long stairway yelling "Charge" because he thinks they are San Juan Hill as well as burying the victims in the cellar because it thinks he is building the Panama Canal. Rick also blows a bugle as he summons his imaginary cabinet or charges up the hill. His safari outfit with pith helmet is a hoot, too. Another scene stealer is Frank Sinisalchi as Dr. Herman Einstein, Jonathan's sidekick. His German accent is wonderful as he plays this drunken plastic surgeon who keeps messing up the operations because of his constant drinking. Frank's wild hair and great facial expressions add to his funny performance.

The four comic cops are played by George Billings, (who gets to hit Jonathan in the head with a billyclub that bends in half on impact leading to gales of laughter) Rebecca Tavares, (who almost gets choked to death by Jonathan) Nathan David Keough ( who is the long winded, budding playwright and tells his life story of being born to Peaches La Tour during a performance while Mortimer is tied up and gagged in a chair) and veteran actor, Jack O'Keefe (who plays the hardboiled lietenant who doesn't believe the spinsters are killers.) Jack also plays the proper Rev. Harper who disapproves of Mortimer being involved with the theatre. Rounding out the cast is Cynthia Glinick who makes her stage debut in this show. She handles the two roles of Mr. Gibbs and Mr. Witherspoon who might or might not be Abby and Martha's latest victim. Special mention goes to Jessie Brennan who plays the two corpses hidden in the windowseat. So for a superior version of this show be sure to catch "Arsenic and Old Lace" at Players. To join in on all the fun at this theatre club just give Lydia a call at the theatre or you can reach her at

"Arsenic and Old Lace" (4 - 12 December)
Barker Playhouse, 400 Benefit Street, PROVIDENCE R I
1 (401) 273-0590

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide