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Arsenic and Old Lace Kills with a Sold Out Show at Blue Moon Theatre Company

by Aimee Ferenz



Joseph Kesselring’s Arsenic and Old Lace has opened at The Blue Moon Theater with roaring laughter and flowing drinks. The Three Act dark comedy follows the story of two sweet elderly aunts, Abby and Martha, who live off of a large sum of money that their father made in Brooklyn in the early 20th century. They are accompanied in the play by their nephews: Mortimer, a dramatic critic; Teddy, a kind man who believes himself to be President Roosevelt; and Johnathan, an unsettling criminal. Mortimer is about to leave to review a play with his fiance, Elaine Harper, when he finds a dead body in the window seat. He comes to find that his sweet old aunties have been poisoning widowed and lonely men to save them from their depression. With police making their regular rounds and doctors stopping by, Mortimer struggles to find a way to keep his terror under wraps and save the aunties from jail time. 


I am first impressed by the incredible 4 day turn around between La Famiglia and Arsenic and Old Lace. While sharing several pieces of furniture and a distinct wallpaper, both shows were able to make the stage their own home by breathing life in through details. They changed out the table cloth, some glassware, the telephone, and the wall decorations to transport us from current day Philadelphia to World War II Brooklyn. This change experienced only one hitch where a picture frame suddenly broke during the performance, which all of the actors took in stride. The successful transition was done in part by the directors of the two shows, Cheryl Stark and Mike Russel respectively. Mike Russel also acted as co-set designer, Sound/light designer and sound tech while Cheryl Stark performed as Aunt Abby and perfected costumes. The production staff is completed with Alex Bak as stage manager, Andrew Sullivan as set builder, and Jolee Farrah as lighting tech. 


Aunt Abby Brewster is brought to life by Co-founder of the Blue Moon, Cheryl Stark, who is accompanied by her sister Martha Brewster, played by Susan Licciardello. These two have an excellent handle on portraying the pair as doting aunts who concern themselves in the livelihoods of others. They are warm, welcoming, and almost hypnotic in how they take care of all who enter their home. It is this hypnotism that lures lonely men to their deaths through Elderberry wine and a kind smile. Both Stark and Licciardello are a lovely experience on stage as they share a well crafted comedic timing, which can only be perfected with more speed and agility. Stark’s strengths are highlighted best in her line delivery and vocal emotion while Licciardello’s success is in her various facial expressions and body language. 


Mortimer, played by Bobby Kramer, can best be described as completely overwhelmed by the way his life has been flipped upside down. At one moment, he is a well published theater critic proposing to Elaine Harper (Lauren LaScala), and the next he is kicking her out of the house before she can be charged as an accomplice to several murders. Kramer portrays the chaos well with a wide range of expressions and several well timed screams. Kramer hits his stride in how he portrays the connection to each character with differentiation, knowing the pull that each character has in the arrest of his dear aunts. Lauren LaScala breathed life into Elaine from the moment she walked through the door and maintained a captivating allure throughout the play. LaScala’s flirtatious and bold performance parallels the archetype of the “Minister’s Daughter” beautifully while her concern for Mortimer’s aunts is heartwarmingly sincere. The two’s relationship on stage is complicated by the plot and played with expert precision. 


Mortimer’s two brothers are stark opposites which exudes success in portraying the Id, Ego, and Superego that Kesserling mastered in his writing. Teddy (the superego) is charmingly untethered to reality by Paul Kranz’s performance. He is completely wrapped up in the world of President Teddy Roosevelt, winning over the hearts of the audience with his excitable hijinx and loveable nature. Meanwhile the Id, Johnathan (Raymond Bolden Jr.) is sinister, brooding, and even downright scary. Bolden performs this role with the same energy of a Bond villain, with the matching scars to prove it. My only concern was that the actor is very soft spoken and, in a small theater with no microphones, it can be critical to sit close so you can catch every detail. Overall, Bolden is a triumph in the role, encompassing not only a murderer but a bully too. Johnathan’s accomplice and plastic surgeon, Dr. Einstein (Pete McMahon) is artfully performed as an exhausted man trapped between a rock and a hard place. McMahon is funny and charming, playing Einstein as a henchman of sorts as he tries to hide Johnathan from the police.


The four policemen are interwoven throughout, always keeping the other characters on their toes. The first two, Officers Brophy (Michela Carey) and Klein (Sam Williams) are completely under the ruse of the Brewster Sisters. Carey and Willams are at ease both on stage and as visitors in the home, allowing the audience to be lured in by the aunts welcome natures. They both continue to show genuine concern for the Brewster family throughout the play, providing comedic evidence to how the ladies have killed so many without a single housecall. Officer O’Hara (Stacy Bachman) acts less as a concerned detective and more as a writer trying to catch their big break. The character’s cluelessness is done beautifully by Bachman, giving a comedic flair to the serious moments that underline her stage time. The last policeman, Lieutenant Rooney (Evan Long), is the exhausted boss of the other officers. Long stands strong on stage and shows comfort in front of others. While projecting well, I struggled to follow his performance as he turned his back to the audience for much of his time on stage. Even so, he portrayed the exasperated feelings of the Lieutenant nicely. 


Dr. Harper, Mr. Gibbs, and Mr. Witherspoon are three near-victims of the Brewster sisters, all of which are charmed by their near-murderers. Dr. Harper (Ricky Thompson) is a tightly wound Minister who shows concerns for his daughter being involved with a theater critic. He is cold and reserved in a way that Thompson is wonderfully successful. Making the show a family affair, Mr. Gibbs is performed by Ricky’s son Brady Thompson. Mr. Gibbs is alone and reclusive, wanting only to board the night in the Brewsters’ spare room. Both Thompsons did a lovely job and I hope to see them on stage again soon. Mr. Witherspoon (Andrew Sullivan) is the Superintendent of Happy Days, a sanitarium where Teddy is meant to be sent once the Brewsters Sisters pass on. Not only is Sullivan successful in this role, but he also is greatly fruitful in building a new structural wall for the set. With these three men, the show could not possibly be the success that it is.


Arsenic and Old Lace is a play that has been near to my heart for many years. As the show is rarely done, this opportunity to experience the story is a treat for the South Jersey area. It is a comedic delight that is perfect for a light hearted night out. Even though the show makes several jabs at the moral compass of a theater critic, this one had a wonderful time seeing the show. Tickets can be purchased for the remaining shows next weekend as this weekend is already sold out. Tickets can be found at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/arsenic-and-old-lace-by-joseph-kesselring-tickets-854066725567 




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