Tuesday, November 8, 2022

A Taste of "Arsenic and Old Lace" at The REP

By Mike Logothetis
Theater reviewer Mike Logothetis grew up in North Wilmington, performing in school and local theater productions. He lives in Newark, but you can find him wherever the arts are good.


Arsenic and Old Lace playing now through November 20.
Photo courtesy of The REP.
The University of Delaware’s Resident Ensemble Players (REP) kicks off its 2022-23 season with the great American farcical black comedy, Arsenic and Old Lace by Joseph Kesselring.

This enduring play, originally staged on Broadway in 1941, continues to astound audiences with its ingenious and brilliant construction. The current production at the REP carries on the grand tradition of the show and entertains from opening curtain to curtain call.

“Some of you may have heard the pandemic radio version of the play and now you can see the real thing. It’s about two older women that relieve older gentleman of their loneliness by killing them with arsenic. You can think of it as a euthanasia comedy.”
— Steve Tague, the REP's new Interim Producing Artistic Director.

The show revolves around the odd members of the Brewster family in their stately Brooklyn home. Mortimer Brewster (Mic Matarrese) is living a happy life in the large old mansion. He has a good job as a drama critic at a prominent New York newspaper and he’s just become engaged to his neighbor Elaine Harper (Erin Partin). His spinster aunts Abby (Kathleen Pirkl Tague) and Martha (Elizabeth Heflin) dote on him and are adored by the community. They even look after and protect Mortimer’s quirky brother Teddy (Lee E. Ernst) who believes he is Teddy Roosevelt.

Mortimer’s world is turned upside down when he discovers that his dear aunts have been quietly poisoning lonely old men and burying them in the basement for years. Aside from this new revelation, long lost maniacal brother Jonathan (Stephen Pelinski) returns on the night that the aunts are planning to bury their newest victim. His somewhat unwilling partner Dr. Einstein (Michael Gotch) adds ghoulish layers to Jonathan’s mysterious past. Mortimer must rally to help his aunts, foil his brother’s nefarious plans, and protect his fiancĂ© – all while trying to maintain his own sanity. Even the local cops (Rob Hancock and John Plumpis) become part of the action, both good and bad; albeit unwittingly. Put it this way, the plot is always swirling… As Abby Brewster says, “How delicious!”

The beautiful set design and construction is the first thing that catches the eye upon entering the theater. It is a wonder of planning and carpentry that includes fine wooden details, wallpaper, portraits, animal heads, and doors…so many doors. Kudos to Stefanie Hansen and her crew.

The actors all shine, but the menace is real when Pelinski’s Jonathan looms on stage. Matarrese does a great job of looking peaceful one minute and utterly distressed the next. His physical and mental exhaustion from the escapades he faces puts the audience on his side. 

The show is funny throughout, but the comedic highlights mostly happen in the second act with many quick and clever jokes. Aunts Abby and Martha (Heflin and Tague) always aim to please and drop some great deadpan one-liners while doing so. The old women just want what’s best for everyone they meet, even believing that serving their killer elderberry wine is a neighborly service. It is, but solely for our entertainment!

My suggestion is to plan an evening out in Newark to enjoy some great theater, but watch out for the apparent kindness of elderly female strangers.

Arsenic and Old Lace will run through November 20 at Thompson Theatre inside the Roselle Center for the Arts (CFA) on the campus of the University of Delaware. Evening shows start at 7:30 and curtain is at 2 for matinees. The performance runs approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes, with two 10-minute intermissions. 

Tickets ($35-39) can be purchased at the theatre box office or online. Please call the box office at (302) 831-2204 or e-mail cfa-boxoffice@udel.edu for information. 

For more information, visit www.rep.udel.edu.

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