Warning: This review contains spoilers.
On the crisp fall evening of Oct. 12, crowds gathered into Meadow Brook Theatre to see the production of “Arsenic and Old Lace.” The play by Joseph Kettering is a dark comedy, which sets the perfect mood as we approach Halloween—the time of year that has minds wandering to spooky places.
It serves up a murderous plot with a ridiculously funny twist, and the good news is you still have time to see it. The last performance is Sunday, Oct. 28.
It begins with a pair of spinster sisters, Martha and Abby Brewster (played by Ruth Crawford and Mary Robin Roth) who have a seemingly quirky hobby—murdering lonely old men. They lure the men into their home with their innocent demeanor and then poison them with elderberry wine laced with arsenic.
Crawford, who portrayed Martha, is known for her recurring role on the hit Comedy Central show “Detroiters,” and Roth, who portrayed Abby, has been performing on Broadway since the 1970s, most notably in the Tony Award-nominated production of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” These leading ladies had the crowd roaring in laughter at their portrayal of these wacky and charming murderers.
Following the most recent of the spinsters’ murders, their nephew Mortimer Brewster returns to their home where he discovers their latest dead body in the window seat. At first he is shocked and assumes it had to have been his mentally ill brother, Teddy Brewster (Peter Prouty), who believes he is President Theodore Roosevelt.
Mortimer also fears he may have to break off his engagement with his aunts’ neighbor Elaine (Olivia Ursu) to protect her from his crazy family.
Prouty hit the nail on the head with his quirky portrayal of Teddy. If it wasn’t for him digging what he believed to be “the Panama canals,” the sisters would never have made it as far as they did on their killing spree. He was charmingly ignorant of everything going on and yet everyone initially believed him to be the culprit for the body in the window seat when given a first guess.
Amidst the chaos of this messy predicament, Mortimer also has to deal with the arrival of his other brother, a mysterious criminal named Jonathan (Michael Brian Ogden)—who brings his personal plastic surgeon, Dr. Einstein (Phil Powers) and his own body to bury. With these two goons being thrown into the mix, chaos ensues.
Jonathan tries to murder Mortimer out of a fit of rage after being ordered to leave, and Dr. Einstein, with his heavy-drinking problem and love for rearranging Jonathan’s face, wants to set up his lab in the spinsters’ home. I found myself laughing uncontrollably at Powers’ portrayal of Dr. Einstein, as he was drunkenly limping around and mocking Jonathan’s malevolent idiocy.
Overall, I really loved this take on such a classic. It was just as entertaining as the film directed by Frank Capra in 1944—the only thing missing was the handsome Cary Grant.