Serial killers – three of them. A doctor who operates while inebriated. A psychotic who’s convinced he’s a dead President of the United States. And a drama critic who writes his review on the way to the theatre.
These are among the elements of a warm and fuzzy comedy that’s family-friendly. Yes, it is. Even when you toss in the slightly slutty minister’s daughter – at least she doesn’t say any bad words.
Joseph Kesselring’s Arsenic and Old Lace is what’s known in the theatre as a “chestnut” – the kind of play almost everyone knows, or has heard of, or has actually been in, because nearly every high school and/or college in the country has done it. There’s a reason plays such as this are done and done again – they’re well-written, with juicy parts for actors, and just enough surprises and outrageous bits that make them seem fresh.
Mortimer immediately leaps to the conclusion that Teddy has vaulted from being a good-natured psychotic to being a bad-natured psychotic, but Abby and Martha assure him that’s not the case: they’re the ones who put the body in the window-seat. Well, actually, it was Abby who put this one in there by herself, because Martha was out and Abby had to put him somewhere because the minister was coming to tea…
And so the madness begins. For yes, it seems the Brewster sisters have, for some years, taken it upon themselves to “bring peace” to lonely old men by offering to rent them rooms, then plying them with elderberry wine spiked with poison. When the gentlemen croak, the ladies bury the bodies in the basement, in “locks” of “the Panama Canal” dug by – you guessed it – Teddy Roosevelt, who believes all the stiffs are victims of yellow fever who must be buried as quickly as possible.
There follow threats and counterthreats, a little bondage, a second dead body, a marriage proposal, visits by various neighborhood cops, and a last-minute revelation about Mortimer’s parentage which causes a whoop of cockeyed jubilation. It’s all quite silly and it’s all great fun.
The actors are game – the ones mentioned above are augmented by Michael Antosy, Darius De La Cruz, Mat Hayes, and Yusef Lambert as policemen, and Alan Abelew playing several parts – and are directed with proper zaniness by Elina de Santos.
Arsenic and Old Lace isn’t “cutting edge” in any way – even the murders are done with poison, not cutlery – but it’s a good, solid, old-fashioned play being given a good, solid, old-fashioned production. Warm and fuzzy is kinda nice, come to think of it.
Arsenic and Old Lace
Written by Joseph Kesselring
Directed by Elina de Santos
Through October 8
2055 S. Sepulveda Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Tickets: 310-477-2055 ext. 2 or www.OdysseyTheatre.com