Joseph Kesselring’s Arsenic and Old Lace is one of America’s most-beloved comedies, and the story of the twisted Brewster family is as revered today as it was when it first premiered over 50 years ago. The play has been resurrected by the SBCC Theatre Group, which gave a preview performance of its production at the Garvin Theatre last Wednesday.
Centerpiece players Leslie Ann Story and Linda MacNeal absolutely killed (pun intended) as Abby and Martha Brewster, the two sweetest serial killers you could ever hope to meet. Their comedic timing was impeccable, and they kept the audiences in stitches even while they slowly revealed the horrifying truth about their sinister hobby. Christopher Lee Short did an equally wonderful job as their nephew Teddy Brewster, stealing almost every scene he was in, primarily due to Teddy’s utter obliviousness about the insane events occurring around him.
Set designer Patricia Frank did a similarly phenomenal job of replicating the look and feel of Brooklyn in the early 1940s, allowing the audience to immediately feel connected to the story. While most of the actors proved more than capable of generating big laughs, there were others who seemed less able to hold their own on the comedic stage. The most egregious offender was Jay Carlander as Mortimer Brewster, whose lack of comedic range made Mortimer into a wooden character that felt completely out of place among so many vivid and lively counterparts. Most of the actors in smaller roles similarly seemed to take up space onstage, failing to make any lasting impression on the audience.
SBCC’s production of Arsenic and Old Lace was loaded with potential, and with a few minor tweaks, including an improvement in overall cast chemistry that will likely come with each subsequent performance, it is hard to imagine this play being anything but a success.