Murder, Intrigue and Laughter at Rivertown

A review of Arsenic and Old Lace

Monday November 05, 07
by Tricia Danflous,

Marc Fouchi is not Cary Grant. But since the debonair movie star is no longer available, Fouchi is a decently devilish double. He’s comically charged with visions of old-fashioned slapstick as Mortimer Brewster in Rivertown Repertory’s Arsenic and Old Lace.

So, what’s with the Cary Grant comparison? If you’ve seen the movie, you’ve seen Grant and more than likely expect every Mortimer to be just like the legendary Hollywood star. Director Gary Rucker obviously decided not to take a risk and disappoint Rivertown audiences who appear quite familiar with the movie and stage performances. Although the opening night (November 2, 2007) crowd anticipated the action, reactions, and finale, the production was met with hearty laughs and significant applause.

Written by Joseph Kesselring in 1939, Arsenic and Old Lace is first and foremost a stage production albeit made famous by the early 1940s Frank Capra movie. The plot revolves around two spinster sisters who murder all-alone older men by offering them elderberry wine, laced with just a pinch of poison. Their nephew, who believes he is Teddy Roosevelt, unknowingly helps to bury the bodies. Enter another nephew Mortimer, recently engaged drama critic who discovers his aunts’ deeds; enter other nephew and criminally insane Jonathan who rivals the Brewster sisters in the body count. It all works out expectedly well amidst laughs and several jabs at the theatrical world.

Thanks to the cast’s energy and professional execution, creative direction, and better than-average technical contributions, Arsenic and Old Lace at Rivertown is a refreshing revival.

Fouchi clearly stands out in the traditional three-act comedy. From his first double take on finding a dead body to wiping away his murderous aunt’s kisses, he uses both small gestures and gigantic movements to convey a befuddled man sinking deeper and deeper into life among the crazies.

Jackson Townsend plays Teddy Brewster who plays at being President Teddy Roosevelt, complete with the “bullys,” bugle blowing and safari garb associated with the 26th president. You can’t help but laugh with each “charge” Townsend takes up the stairs and look forward to every line. “Hitler is not a Christian” is funny and poignant.

Michael Cahill is frenetic and loose as the scalpel slipping bad and mad Dr. Einstein. Jim Chimento is partner-in-crime Jonathan Brewster, Mortimer’s long lost and not missed brother. The duo are superbly cast, adding much to the production’s humor and the play’s tributes to the Boris Karloff horror film era.

Julie Vorus and Linda Hubchen portray the Brewster sisters with finesse. Michael Sullivan may be the best in the nation to play an Irish policeman – he is just so right for the part, bringing renewed life to the play as it drifts to the last minutes before final curtain. Other supporting cast members Terence Foster, P.J. McKinnie, Paul Cook, Stacy Taliancich and Roland “Butch” Caire Jr. present a solid foundation for the revolving action.

Chris Adams’ set design for the one-set presentation is the standard non-musical living/dining room atmosphere with a grand staircase and entranceways. It is markedly different, however, in the clever use of black and gray tones with a smidgen of reds here and there, including a blood red sofa close to center sage. The set is highlighted with askew windows, picture frames and accoutrements reflecting the absurd activity in the Brewster home. And the coffin-shaped window seat – trés apropos.

Costumes by Linda Fried are well done, especially outfits for Mortimer’s girlfriend, which pick up on the set’s grays and red highlights.

Depending on your age, you’ve probably seen Arsenic and Old Lace more than a few times – it’s a standard for high school drama clubs. If you liked it once, twice, or more, you’ll enjoy it again at Rivertown Repertory.

Back Row Facts

Length of Play – two hours and 25 minutes including one 15-minute intermission. There is no intermission between Act Two and Act Three.

Language – no bad language or off-color jokes.

Family Fitness – my guess would be anyone over ten would enjoy the production. It’s a little old-fashioned, however, for today’s younger generations.

It’s a puzzlement! How early should you arrive at Rivertown Repertory to get a good parking space?