The quaint Brewster home, the longtime abode of spinster sisters Abby and Martha, has the busiest window bench in Brooklyn. And the basement, where nephew Teddy (as in Roosevelt) keeps digging what he believes is the Panama Canal, is pretty busy - and crowded - as well.
Joseph Kesselring's long-running Broadway classic, "Arsenic and Old Lace," a staple of community and scholastic theaters for more than half a century, has finally arrived at the Hale Centre Theatre.The Monday/Wednesday/Friday cast features matriarch Ruth Hale as sweet little Abby Brewster, with Marjorie Wilson as her younger sister, Martha. They're delightful as the darling, aging sisters who - with a spare room on their hands - decide to take in lonely boarders. Except they toss in a surprise: A swig of their homemade elderberry wine, laced with a spoonful of arsenic, a dash of strychnine and a pinch of cyanide.
It does pack a wallop.
"They've been so lonely and they look so peaceful when they die," Abby explains to another of their nephews - drama critic Mortimer Brewster. (He gets somewhat agitated when, looking for a missing notebook, he stumbles across the body of Abby and Martha's most recent victim, stashed in the window seat until nephew Teddy can bury him in the basement).
The comedy - and the plot - picks up even more speed when Mortimer ends up dealing with not only his fiance, Elaine, but his long missing (and murderously demented) brother, Jonathan, and his equally diabolical sidekick, Dr. Einstein, not to mention several cops and yet another body.
Director David Neiman injects this golden oldie with fine performances, superb costuming, a charming "period" setting and well-paced timing. Another big plus is Cody Hale's jaunty original music and arrangements.
The cast I caught on opening night was, by and large, first-rate. In addition to Hale and Wilson, Sterling Brimley literally charges his way through the Teddy Brewster role, while Marissa Young is a beguiling Elaine and JaceSon Barrus is eerily sinister as Jonathan.
William Bisson is also well cast as Dr. Einstein, who skipped medical school and moved directly into rearranging peoples' faces.
Ben Carling, however, seemed to be sleepwalking through his role as Mortimer. He looked almost bored much of the time. Not the Ben we've seen in earlier HCT roles. Maybe just an "off" night.
But the rare opportunity to see Ruth Hale herself in a legendary role makes "Arsenic and Old Lace" well worth the while.
- THE ALTERNATE CAST includes Annette Wright, Don Cosney, Bryon Finch, Joan Mullaney, Jennie Whitlock, Greg Falge and Gordon Johnson, plus two popular Off Broadway Theatre comics, Russ Peacock and Zac Zumbrunnen.