Arsenic and Old Lace

A body in the window seat. Twelve or 13 more in the “Panama Canal” in the basement. (The number depends upon whether you’re talking to President Teddy Roosevelt or his brother Mortimer, the drama critic. Or his other brother who looks like Boris Korloff’s Frankenstein). All this and homemade elderberry wine laced with strychnine and cyanine, at the Brewster’s Brooklyn mansion, in Joseph Kesselring’s 1939 award-winning black comedy “Arsenic and Old Lace” now playing at HART.

Since its 1944 opening on Broadway (with actor Boris Korloff playing himself) “Arsenic” has become the darling of community theatres as well as college and high school theatre programs. HART’s top-notch production of this chestnut, under the spot-on direction of HART veteran Wanda Taylor, is as good as you’ll ever see. Taylor knows her cast, and her direction of it is perfect. Actors whose style is to pull out all the stops are encouraged to do so. Others are allowed to play it straight. The yin-and-yang makes for a well-paced “theatre of the absurd,” and judging from Friday’s opening night laughter, the sold-out audience loved it.

HART favorite Stephen A. Gonya is always an audience-pleaser. His Mortiner Brewster hits the spot. Charlie Wilson has the plum role of “Teddy Roosevelt” which is set up for over-the-top emoting. To Wilson’s credit, he tempers his performance with enough sanity to make the charging-up-San-Juan-Hill bits as hilarious as they should be. Jane Hallstrom’s Martha Brewster is delightful. HART newcomer Mark Lieberman has fun with his role as Dr. Einstein.

Out of a perfect cast made up of Adam Welchel, Jeffrey Streitfeld, James Bice, Ariel Killilllay, newcomer Audrey Wells, Alan Chandler, Scott Shanken and newcomer Stephen Clifford, this reviewer’s eyes kept going to Shelia Radford Sumpter. Sumpter plays the naïve, ditzy Aunt Amy Brewster better than the actress who portrayed her in the 1944 smash hit film starring Cary Grant. It’s great to see the Artistic Director of Kids at HART on the boards. (Note to aspiring actors: this is how it’s done).

In “Arsenic,” Tom Deweese and Adam Welchel continue the tradition of HART’s beautiful sets.

Bruce Donley and Joshua Fugate handle sound. Lighting designs are by Steve Lloyd. Stage Manager is Nichole Sumpter.

See this. You’ll like it.

HART will continue to show Arsenic and Old Lace through Nov. 3. Performances are Oct., 25, 26, and Nov. 1-2 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 27 and Nov. 3 at 2 p.m.

Mary Ann Enloe is a life-long Hazelwood resident who has been active in local government and the arts. She has served as mayor of Hazelwood, a Haywood County Commissioner, was a founding member of the Haywood County Arts Council and has been active in numerous other activities and organizations through the years. She covers arts and entertainment issues in Haywood County, especially bluegrass, and is a writer for The Biltmore Beacon.

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