While Metro Theatre’s Arsenic and Old Lace occasionally suffered from a pace that felt as old as the play itself, the performances from Val Dearden and Alison Schamberger as the two murderous aunts definitely helped raise this aging comedy classic beyond the ordinary.
Arguably one of the earliest black comedies in existence (the show was originally written in 1939), Arsenic and Old Lace sees Mortimer Brewster (Nathanael Vaas) discovering that his aunts Abby (Dearden) and Martha (Schamberger) have been killing off lonely old men for years now and burying them in the cellar. In his efforts to protect his aunts, Mortimer decides to blame the murders on his crazy brother Teddy (Rob Gillespie), who believes he is President Roosevelt. As Mortimer deals with his aunt’s murders, his other brother, the long-lost Jonathan (Blaine Anderson), decides to pay a visit with his own dead body.
Both Dearden and Schamberger as the Aunts are the definite highlights of this show. Where it could have been so easy for them to take the homicidal manic character to heart, they have opted here for a reserved craziness that works well against the backdrop of all the insanity that is taking place around them. Director Don Briard must obviously take some credit for this as well.
Also note-worthy were Caitlin Clugston as Mortimer’s fiancée Elaine who was delightfully channeling the spirit of Judy Garland and Pat McDermott as Jonathan’s henchman.
As a farce, the improbabilities and absurdities tend to come fast and furious, hitting the audience in rapid succession. Unfortunately at times the show lacked this necessary pacing. This was particularly evident in some of the larger scenes.
Director Baird does double duty here as Set Designer (actually he does quadruple duty as he is also responsible for lighting and even gives himself a small role) and I continue to be amazed at the level of sophistication and detail that this group takes in its set designs. A few lighting issues on opening night will hopefully be easily remedied.
Despite some of its pacing issues, Metro Theatre’s 444th production still has an old world charm about it led by the wonderful performances of Dearden and Schamberger as the two little old ladies armed with their homemade elderberry wine.
Arsenic and Old Lace
Metro Theatre, 1370 SW Marine Drive, Vancouver
October 3 – 31, 2009 (Wednesday to Saturday) plus two Sunday 2pm matinees on Oct 11 and Oct 25
Tickets are $18 for adults and $15 for students and seniors and may be obtained by calling the Metro Box Office at 604 266-7191. Visit http://www.metrotheatre.org for more information.