Thursday, January 31, 2019

‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ Feels Fresh and New at Taproot

Abby Brewster (Kim Morris), Mortinmer Brewster (Richard Nguyen Sloniker)
and Martha Brewster (Pam Nolte). (Phtoto: Erik Stuhaug)
Joseph Kesselring’s “killer” play, Arsenic and Old Lace first opened on Broadway on January 10, 1941. The movie version starring Cary Grant opened in theaters in 1944. Since that time, the play has probably been presented by every high school drama class in the country numerous times. It’s one of those plays that “everyone” has seen and loved. However, it’s been a long time since any professional theater in Seattle has brought the classic back to stage (that I can recall at least) so it’s high time that should come about once again.

When performed correctly, Arsenic and Old Lace has a timeless quality to it despite how much our world has changed since it was written. The dark comedy has a real wit to it as a “fish out of water” type of story turned on its head. And I’m glad to say that Taproot does the playwright proud.

Mortimer (Richard Nguyen Sloniker) and
Jonathan (David Drummond) (Photo: Erik Stuhaug)
Arsenic and Old Lace features two of favorite local actresses in the lead roles. Kim Morris plays the headstrong but sweet Abby Brewster opposite Pam Nolte’s timid but equally sweet Martha Brewster, her sister. The two still live in the family home next to town’s church and graveyard and have a wonderful reputation by the locals as a couple of women looking out for others in their times of need. Living with them is their nephew Teddy Brewster (Stephen Grenley) who thinks he’s really Teddy Roosevelt and that the Panama Canal is located in the basement of the family home.

Also living with the spinster sisters, at least temporarily, is Teddy’s brother Mortimer (Richard Nguyen Sloniker) who is a theatre critic who hates the theatre. He has literally fallen in love with the girl next door, Elaine Harper (Elizabeth Keck), the daughter of Reverend Harper (Bill Johns) who disapproves of his daughter seeing an art critic afraid what has rubbed off onto him. A bit wacky, but everything seems normal enough until Mortimer finds a dead body in the house’s window seat. Things go downhill when he tells his aunts the shocking news and they aren’t surprised by it at all and plan to hold a Methodist funeral for the man.

This leads to more uncomfortable revelations about Mortimer’s family, hiding information from the police and the return of Teddy and Mortimer’s long lost brother, Jonathan (David Drummond). Looking like a Hollywood monster and seeking out a place of refuge with his plastic surgery doctor, Dr. Einstein (Nolan Palmer), Jonathan thinks that the old Brewster homestead would make for the perfect hideout. It’s enough to drive a guy to drink. Just don’t touch the homemade elderberry wine!

Abby (Kim Morris), Teddy (Stephen Grenley) and Jonathan
(David Drummod) (Photo: Erik Stuhaug)
There really isn’t a weak link with this production. All of the characters play their roles with intense earnestness and are able to utter the most absurd lines without losing character. Both Mark Lund’s multi-level set and Jocelyne Fowler’s costume designs are amazing. The Brewster home is so warm and inviting, you can totally see yourself curling up in the living room with a good book. (The Brewster’s should really consider opening it up as a B and B.)

Arsenic and Old Lace continues through March 2, 2019. Performance times are Wednesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and an additional Saturday matinee performance at 2:00 p.m. Tickets range from $27-$50 depending on the performance. Visit the website for information about discount ticket options and special performances that include post-play discussions and more. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 206-781-9708. Taproot Theatre is located at 204 N. 85th St. in Seattle, 98103.

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