“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.