“Arsenic and Old Lace” is a play originally written in 1939. Its dark comedy helped inspire famous films like Heathers, and it is still popular today. The story follows newly engaged Mortimer Brewster and his family, including his brother Teddy, who believes that he is Theodore Roosevelt, his long lost brother Jonathan and his elderly spinster aunts, Martha and Abby, who are harboring a secret of their own.
The version of “Arsenic and Old Lace” that the Patriot Players put on is faithful to the original. The acting, set and lighting sound design are all amazingly done. Mortimer Brewster, played by junior Luke McKenzie, is fantastic. His mannerisms, inflections and even his facial expressions all captured Mortimer’s stressed, workaholic, family-man, character perfectly.
Jonathan Brewster, played by freshman Spencer Gordon, was also very impressive. Jonathan acts as a foil to Mortimer; where Mortimer is energetic and scattered, Jonathan is calm, collected, single-minded and intimidating, his presence filling up the whole room. Spencer captured the character perfectly, an impressive feat given that he may have been the shortest actor in the cast playing a main role.
Beyond the characters, the set was also impressive. Designed by freshman Astra Megyesi and sophomore Anna Videgar, the entire play is set in aunt Martha and Abby’s house, specifically the living and dining room, the staircase and the hallway at the top of the stairs, which meant that the team working on the set could focus their energy on fewer things to give them more detail. This results in what could easily be mistaken for a real set of rooms in a real house, with books and bottles on shelves, chairs, a sofa, a window seat, everything you would see in a real home. It’s impressive how real they were able to make it look.
The lighting design, designed by Evan Mues and sophomores Alexandra Marusich and Ethan Kelton was impressive. Most scenes are lit normally by stage lights, but the lamps and chandelier within the set give off the impression that they are actually providing it. In scenes set in the dark, the lights switch to a cooler blue color that illustrates the change in the amount of light while still allowing the audience to see, providing a sense of realism to the performance. In a few scenes, practically all the lights are off allowing for some interesting use of darkness (which I won’t spoil) and of course a few comedic lightning effects.
Quite simply, the play is great because of the way it manages to blend realism with comedy. Every character and set piece feels has a presence, everything feels real. “Arsenic and Old Lace” is a joy to watch in just about any form it comes in, but this version left quite the impression on me. “Arsenic and Old Lace” opens on Thursday April, 19, with a performance at 6:30 pm. The Patriot Players will perform evening shows on April 20 and 21, at 6:30 pm and will offer a matinee performance at 1:30 pm. A school showing at 3:00 pm on Wednesday April 18 is free for students and faculty. I highly recommend you take the chance to see it in the form it was meant to be in.