Lake City Playhouse’s production does justice to Joseph Kesselring’s 1939 classic comedy-thriller “Arsenic and Old Lace.” George Green’s set – an antique, warm and lacy facade – masks evil deeds that are afoot within.
In “Arsenic,” theater critic Mortimer Brewster (Todd Kehne) tries to keep his romance alive and his family together amidst poison, psychopaths, unwitting cops and dead bodies. Kehne grows funnier as his character becomes increasingly exasperated, losing control over his circumstances.
Mortimer’s spinster aunts, Abby (Tamara Schupman) and Martha (Gail Cory-Betz), are sweet and polite as they poison lonely men. They believe they are being charitable and no one would ever suspect they would do such a thing. Schupman and Cory-Betz are two peas in a pod.
Eric Paine is likeable and fun as Mortimer’s brother, who thinks he’s President Teddy Roosevelt. He has a fondness for blowing a bugle and burying “yellow fever” victims in the basement.
Mortimer’s criminal brother, Jonathan (Brandon Montang) and his companion, Einstein (Ron Ford), pay the family a visit, carrying baggage of their own. Montang’s Jonathan is forceful but lacks the creepy nature to make one believe he’s a cold-blooded killer. His final exit, however, is great. Ford is believable as German Dr. Einstein, but he could be more meek and fearful of his dangerous counterpart, which would add to the suspense.
Kesselring’s script is witty with some delightful twists, and it is well staged by director Heather McHenry-Kroetch. From the moment where Mortimer discovers a corpse in the window seat, the scene – one of the most well-known in theater – builds suspensefully and comically to the end of the first act.
All’s well that ends well, except for the play’s final moment, which is especially satisfying.