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Theater review: 'Arsenic and Old Lace' captures the comedy

Published: Monday, May 5 2014 5:26 p.m. MDT

Chris Brown and Melany Wilkins play sisters Abby and Martha Brewster in Hale Centre Theatre's production of the murder comedy "Arsenic and Old Lace."

Provided by Hale Centre Theatre

The Brewster family in “Arsenic and Old Lace” has its fair share of quirks.

“Insanity runs in our family,” Paul Cartwright says as Mortimer Brewster. “It practically gallops.”

Hale Centre Theatre does an impressive job capturing the comedy of a family with two aunts who poison old men as “charity,” a brother who believes he is actually Teddy Roosevelt and another who is a sadistic serial killer.

The play tells the story of Mortimer Brewster and his family over the course of a single night. Mortimer is the relatively normal one in the family and a theater critic by profession (“Somebody has to do those things,” the Brewster sisters say a bit tongue-in-cheek).

He thinks he’s headed to the theater with his new fiancé, but plans change drastically once he finds a body in the window seat. When he learns this homicide — a service project in his aunts’ eyes — isn’t an isolated incident, it becomes a night of stewing, distress, flying off the handle and a massive cover-up.

The entire three-act play, which has an alternating cast, takes place in a single room with exceptional set design by Kacey Udy. The Brewsters' sitting room is complete with multiple stained glass chandeliers and lamps, multiple pink-red upholstered armchairs, dark wood accents, lace tablecloths and a porcelain tea set with gold trim. It’s the perfect home for two seemingly well-meaning sisters.

Chris Brown and Melany Wilkins shine as Abby and Martha Brewster — the aunts who balk at the idea of telling a lie but believe dragging lonely old men to death’s door is “mercy.” Their giddiness is almost contagious, and the delivery of their not-so-logical logic brings in well-deserved laughs.

Michael Hohl plays Teddy on alternate nights and captures the brother’s wacky tendencies as he army crawls through the living room, signs “secret treaties” and takes care of those stricken by “yellow fever” (who are actually the old men his aunts poison). The audience can’t help but find Teddy’s imaginations of being President Roosevelt endearing, thanks to Hohl’s performance.

Brandon Green is single-cast as Mortimer’s serial killer brother Jonathan, and it is a fortunate thing that all audiences will have the chance to see his performance. Green has the shady criminal role down to a T. His greasy hair and sharp Frankenstein's monster-like movements come off exactly as intended: creepy. The drawn-out nasally tone in his voice creates a feeling akin to nails on a chalkboard and is brilliant for the criminally insane antagonist that one can’t help but love to hate.

The play contains two instances of brief sexual innuendo and an overly exaggerated passionate kiss. Although murder is a topic rife in the play, no actual killing is shown.

If you go …

What: “Arsenic and Old Lace”

Where: Hale Centre Theatre, 3333 S. Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City

When: through May 31, evening performances Monday-Saturday with several matinees also available

How much: $27 for adults and $16 for children ages 5-11

Phone: 801-984-9000

Website: hct.org

Email: wbutters@deseretnews.com, Twitter: WhitneyButters

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