Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Arsenic & Old Lace"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2005 by Tony Annicone

"Arsenic & Old Lace"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Granite Theatre's current show is the 1941 comedy "Arsenic & Old Lace". It takes place in the living room of an old Victorian house in Brooklyn. This black comedy is about two sweet spinster sisters, Abby and Martha Brewster who bump off elderly gentlemen with no families by serving them poisoned elderberry wine. It is also about 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 this show so he might not be as sane as one might think.) There are nine other characters in the show including 4 cops, a minister, his daughter who is in love with Mortimer, a drunken German doctor who is really a hoodlum, a would be victim of the ladies and the rest home director who might be the ladies 13th victim. Director David Jepson chooses the best people for these wild and crazy roles, infusing a manic and madcap energy in every one of them to keep the show in constant motion to entertain the audience all night long.

David not only directs this show but plays Mr. Witherspoon, the rest home director. He only created the fantastic two story set. David's strength as a director comes through in his blocking and his making each character different from each other. He creates the mood for a dark comedy but keeps the action flowing to keep the interest level high during the show. The numerous light and sound effects are by Morgan Ban-Draoi and the stage manager is Michael Chiaradio who also plays one of the funny neighborhood cops, Officer Brophy.

The two wonderful actresses playing Abby and Martha are Beth Jepson and Denise Shultzman. Both ladies are much younger than the 70 year old Brewster sisters but their make-up, wigs and way of walking captures their aged behavior perfectly. Their quavery voices, line delivery and mannerisms are right on the money. They run the gamut of emotions from sweet to wacky to frightened and back again. Their interactions with the rest of the cast is wonderful, too. David LaRocque as Mortimer, in his first leading part is a human dynamo in this enormous role. He handles the part of a nasty drama critic with excellent comic timing and has wonderful chemistry with the entire cast.

Mortimer's girlfriend, Elaine is played by Michelle Messina. She gives this girl a backbone to stand up to his erratic behavior after he finds dead bodies in the window box seat. A really comic role in this show Teddy played by Frank Pendola. He has some of the best one liners and makes them count whether he is running up the stairs yelling "Charge!" because he thinks he is going up San Juan Hill, blowing a bugle or when he buries the bodies in the cellar which he thinks is Panama and that they are yellow fever victims. Another comic role is the German doctor, Herman Einstein played by Keith Brayne who is Jonathan's sidekick. His bald head and great facial expressions and accent are hilarious as the plastic surgeon who botches up his operations because he tipples the bottle too much. Jonathan, the villain of the show is masterfully played Jude Pescatello. His physical presence and commanding speaking voice scare the pants off the audience. Jude gives this role the right amount of venom and his facial expressions send chills up your spine, too.

Besides Michael ( who gets to knock Jonathan out with a plastic billyclub) the other three comic cops are played by John Cillino ( who almost gets choked to death by Jonathan) Felix Stanley (who plays the long winded Irish cop who tries to get Mortimer who is bound and gagged in a chair to help him write his play about his mother, Peaches LaTour) (Felix also plays the prim and proper minister at the beginning of the show) and Jimmy Pollitt who plays the hardboiled lieutenant who doesn't believe the spinsters are killers as well as one of the Mr. Gibbs, one of the ladies intended victims. So for a splendid version of this 1940's show be sure to catch "Arsenic and Old Lace" in the airconditioned comfort of the Granite Theatre in Westerly.

ARSENIC & OLD LACE ( 3 - 26 June)
The Granite Theatre, Westerly, RI
1 (401) or

"Arsenic & Old Lace" (3 - 26 June)
1 Granite Street, WESTERLY RI
1 (401)596-2341

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide