Madeline Campbell stars as Abigail Brewster in “Arsenic and Old Lace,” Courtesy | Daniel Harmon

“One tea­spoon full of arsenic, then add half a tea­spoon full of strychnine, and then just a pinch of cyanide.” That isn’t your aunt’s recipe for elder­berry wine. But then again, Martha Brewster is no ordinary aunt. 

For those in search of a night of adventure, dark humor, and Theodore Roo­sevelt imper­son­ations, Hillsdale’s Tower Player’s pro­duction of “Arsenic and Old Lace” playing this weekend will not dis­ap­point. Per­for­mances will run Wednesday through Sat­urday at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 24.

Set in New York during the 1940’s, Arsenic and Old Lace tells the story of an everyday theatre critic named Mor­timer Brewster, played by James Young, and his everyday family — except everyone in his family are homi­cidal maniacs. 

The play opens with Mor­timer getting engaged to his sweet­heart Elaine Harper and cel­e­brating the news with his beloved elderly aunts, Martha and Abbey Brewster. From here, things quickly spin out of control as Mor­timer acci­den­tally dis­covers that his aunts have been killing old, lonely men with poi­soned elder­berry wine as a charity to them. 

Des­perate to protect his aunts from the law, Mor­timer seeks to dispose of a body but his plans are hijacked by his two brothers who turn out to be insane as well. One brother, Teddy, believes he is Theodore Roo­sevelt and keeps bringing the police to their house with his ruckus bugle playing. 

The other brother, Jonathan, who has a reward on his head, invites himself into the aunts’ home with a dead body of his own to get rid of. Jonathan also brings an infamous plastic surgeon who has changed his face three times to prevent police from rec­og­nizing him. 

The play depicts Mortimer’s frenzied attempts to keep his serial-killer aunts out of jail, stop his plastic-surgery afi­cionado of a brother from endan­gering the rest of his family, and find an asylum for Teddy, all while con­vincing his fiancee not to leave him. 

What ensues is sheer hilarity. Junior Trenton Olds’ por­trayal of Teddy will have you in stitches as he embodies all the gusto of our 26th pres­ident. His bois­terous excla­ma­tions of “Bully!” and Roosevelt’s battle cry “Charge!” as he ascends the staircase to his room might just con­vince you that he really is Roo­sevelt. 

For the lover of sit­u­a­tional irony and slap-stick comedy, the scene in which both Mor­timer and his brother attempt to bury dif­ferent bodies in the same grave com­plete with run-ins with cops with thick New Yorker accents will not dis­ap­point. 

Director Michael Beyer said though the play con­tains some com­mentary on insanity and mental health in the 1940’s, the main goal is pure enter­tainment.

“It’s comedy. It’s not an intel­lectual thriller. Treat it as comedy and the laughs will flow,” said Beyer. 

Senior Madeline Campbell said she espe­cially appre­ciated the dark humor of the play. For her, the fun of playing Abbey Brewster is treating Brewster’s crimes as normal, since her char­acter believes her murders are charity for her victims. 

“‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ is hon­estly just a good time,” Campbell said. “The best that 1940’s theater has to offer.” 

James Young agreed. As his senior project, Young said he enjoyed playing a char­acter like Mor­timer who has strong reac­tions to the lunacy hap­pening around him. 

“I love morbid humor. I love plays where it has fun with dark or serious topics,” Young said. 

Just like the Brewster aunts’ recipe for elder­berry wine, the Tower Player’s pro­duction of Arsenic and Old Lace is a recipe for a killer time.