Twenty-four murders, a gallon of elderberry wine, and several months’ preparation put the production “Arsenic and Old Lace” on the NS stage last week, and the result was a genuinely funny and well-acted comedy. It demonstrated, once again, the talent of both director Alex Barlow and the cast performing on stage.
Jennifer and Jessica Boekweg play Abby and Martha Brewster, and the sisters convincingly portray the quaint, oblivious insanity of the two elderly Brewster sisters. However, it took them a while to hit their stride. The beginning of the play was difficult to follow as the audience adapted to the strident, energetic Brewsters. After about ten minutes, though, the lines slowed down, the acting became more natural, and the Boekwegs found their roles. Once they did, the pair shone on stage.
The play takes place exclusively in the Brewsters’ home, where they live with their nephew, Teddy. Teddy, played by Donnivan Kubota, is also insane; he believes himself to be President Theodore Roosevelt. Kubota brought energy and humor to his role; his recurring reenactment of Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan hill, and his descent to the basement to dig the Panama Canal never failed to bring an audience laugh.
Unfortunately, like the Boekwegs, Kubota also struggled to be understood early in the play. This struggle, though, may have been by design. Kubota, like many of the actors, struggled to assume accents that left their lines sometimes feeling stiff. This was one of the few areas that could stand to be improved, and the stilted New York and German accents were occasional reminders that the actors are still in high school.
Early in the play, the Brewsters’ home is visited by another nephew, Mortimer Brewster, played by Nicholas Honey, and his girlfriend turned fiancee, Elaine Harper, played by Lucy Quinn. When Mortimer discovers a dead body in the window seat, he assumes his brother Teddy murdered someone under a delusion. When he confronts his aunts about it, wanting to put Teddy in a facility, they confess to poisoning the gentlemen, along with eleven others, with elderberry wine laced with arsenic, strychnine, and cyanide.
Honey and Quinn were both strong actors in the performance. Both were clearly heard and understood, and both filled their roles well. Quinn especially demonstrated a maturity that was impressive; she was at times suggestive and at other times dramatic. Honey was also impressive; his confusion and frustration was convincing and rarely over the top. The pair played a couple nicely.
As the play progresses, the audience discovers that the Brewster sisters are not the only two murderers in the family when the third brother, Jonathan Brewster, played by Jonathan Fletcher, and his accomplice, Doctor Einstein, played by Aidan Anderson, show up at the house with yet another dead body that the other Brewsters are then forced to deal with.
Fletcher and Anderson also did well in their roles. Fletcher’s comic malevolence fit the mood of the play nicely, avoiding dark content while also keeping the ‘bad guy’ role. His acting was complemented masterfully by Anderson, who played the frustrated and mistreated sidekick. Anderson’s three-stooges-like humor provided a contrast to Fletcher’s role, and made the audience laugh often. Although Anderson’s German accent was far from perfect, he was nearly always understood, and he made yet another strong addition to the cast.
The other characters in the production were also well acted. Though at times the acting was excessive, the overall quality was impressive indeed. Actors included Kelsen Spencer, Chris Holbrook, Benjamin Barlow, Salem Kimball, Grand Morris, and Kate Mudrow. They served to round out a quality production.
In addition to the quality performance of the actors on stage, the set itself was impressive and well-designed. Though its sturdiness was occasionally in question, both the set and the props were detailed and gave the play a professional feel. In conjunction with the light and sound crews, the play was done well at every level. Though “Arsenic and Old Lace” is no longer showing, it, along with previous plays, sets a high bar for future productions.