The Villa Playhouse’s Halloween production of “Arsenic and Old Lace” plays up the show’s spooky elements more than its humor, making it an enjoyable show for anyone who’s never seen it, but a little disappointing to fans of the classic dark comedy.
The story is of two quaint little old ladies, Abby (Maureen Eastwood) and Martha (Esther Rae Barney), beloved by the town and known all over for their acts of charity.
Among their charitable acts is to find people who are lonely, without friends or family, poison them, and bury them in the basement. The town is not aware of this, obviously.
Such delightful comedy can come of such an absurd situation, especially when the old ladies are played with such cute grandmotherliness by Eastwood (reprising the role she played in last year’s Springville Playhouse production) and Barney. They both play their parts to the fullest, creating most of what humor exists in this staging.
Their nephew Mortimer (Kerry Murdock), a theater critic, spends most of his time being flustered after discovering his aunts’ dark deeds, and he tries to pin it on his insane brother Teddy (Dane Allred), a harmless dim-wit who thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt. Mortimer is a difficult role, as he has pretty much just one emotion: flustered. Murdock gives it the ol’ college try, but he is far out-acted in his scenes with MinD Jensen, who plays his fiancee with flair, controlled energy and confidence.
The set, designed by W. Bill Brown Jr. (who also directed), is authentic-looking and beautiful. The mood music that plays almost constantly through the show effectively sets the tone when Mortimer’s murderous brother, Jonathan (Malcolm Phipps), arrives – but then it keep playing whenever he’s onstage, and it gets old (especially since it’s the same two minutes of music, repeated over and over).
Again, this production plays up the creepiness over the humor. This is unfortunate, as the humor, when played right, is abundant and outrageously funny. But for a Halloween show meant to deliver entertaining chills for the whole family, the show does OK.
This can be a funny show. For some reason, this production chose to play up the spookiness of it, often at the expense of the laughter. Alas.