“Arsenic and Old Lace” – from left, Jonathan Brewster (Lorin McCraley), Mortimer Brewster (James Jeffery Caldwell), and Dr. Einstein (Stephen Beal). PHOTO COURTESY OF SURF CITY THEATRE
BY VY S. NGUYEN
If you’ve been asking yourself, “Should I watch a comedy or a drama?” Well, why not have both? Surf City Theatre Company is presenting “Arsenic and Old Lace, a hilarious dark comedy that takes place during World War II.
Many of us may think that our family members are on the crazy side, but for Mortimer Brewster (James Jeffrey Caldwell) that is just putting it lightly. His brother Teddy (Daniel Tennant) is convinced that he is President Teddy Roosevelt, and his other brother Jonathan (Lorin McCraley) is a sadistic psychopath who undergoes face transplants to evade being arrested for his crimes. Most shocking of all, his Aunt Abby and Aunt Martha (Sheryl Goodspeed and Melody Cohen respectively), whom he thought to be sweet and innocent, turn out to be murderers. Mortimer tries to sort out how deep insanity runs in his family while also trying to keep his newly engaged fiancée Elaine Harper (Justine Bierne) away from it all. With the idea that right and wrong is very subjective, this play keeps the audience on its toes, laughing with every twist and turn.
Producer and Artistic Director Lisa Leonard wants the audience to feel involved in the play and not as if they are mere bystanders. The small stage and shortage of space actually makes watching the play more intimate because the audience can get a clear and close view of the action from every seat. Some of the “rooms” in the Brewster’s home are off stage, and having the actors step away from time to time shows that the production is not just limited to what we can physically see.
The costumes and props of the show transport the audience to a time when fashion was less gaudy, and when what made a home impressive were the picture frames that hung on the walls and how many people could fit comfortably on a couch. However, the simple clothing and homey feel of the production does not take away from the dark and twisted humor of the people who either inhabit or visit the Brewster’s home. The comforting décor of the home is inviting, and therefore it perfectly masks the sinister activities that go on beneath its roof.
See this play and find out why it’s frequently called “a killer comedy.”
Arsenic and Old Lace is being performed this weekend on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Sunday. It’s also being staged on Saturday May 10 at 8 .m. and Sunday, May 11, at 2 p.m. Presented by Surf City Theatre, all shows take place in the Second Story Theater at 710 Pier Avenue, Hermosa Beach. Tickets, $25. Call (424)241-8040.