On Friday, October 6, Marblehead Little Theatre’s production of “Arsenic and Old Lace” opened to a packed house. The show sold out its first weekend long before opening night, and will return for those who missed it for another round of performances Oct. 12-15.
Running at about two hours and forty minutes including intermission, MLT’s “Arsenic and Old Lace” is full of eccentric characters, dark comedy and seasonal ambience, all amidst the backdrop of a beautiful hand-made set. The themes of murder and insanity fit right in with the Halloween spirit.
“I think it’s the season for this kind of show — for theater in general,” commented producer David Foye. “It’s getting cold outside, the weather is frightful and it’s time to go back to the theater.”
Written in 1940, “Arsenic and Old Lace” follows the wealthy Brewster family, a collection of deranged and hilarious characters. The MLT cast welcomes back familiar faces such as Betty Lautner and John Archer, as well as newer additions like director Honorah Tinti. After acting in this summer’s review “Gershwin and Porter” and getting to know the community, Tinti volunteered to direct “Arsenic and Old Lace” as only her second production with MLT.
“I feel privileged to have been a part of bringing this production to the stage here at Marblehead Little Theater,” she wrote in her director’s note, “but even more so as a director of such a richly talented cast.” On top of directing, Tinti also made an appearance as Officer Klein towards the end of the play alongside David Foye as Officer Brophy.
Both director and producer agreed that to put up a play like “Arsenic and Old Lace,” it really takes a village. Foye commented that “so many things come together at the same time,” later comparing the experience of putting together a show to making pottery. “It’s a mess, you form it up, you spent six weeks putting it together. It isn’t until you make that final curve in the pot that you think ‘Oh, that’s what I wanted!’”
Foye talked about how the nature of “Arsenic and Old Lace” relies on the actors’ abilities to work together to create atmospheric moments and comedic timing.
“It’s more like choreography than blocking,” he said.
With characters sneaking around in the dark, coming and going through three different exits and dragging ragdolls across the stage, one can certainly see how much work the actors have put in in the six weeks since they began rehearsals in August.
Although the actors are not allowed a moment’s confusion about where anyone is or what’s going to happen next, the characters certainly are. This grim comedy of errors relies on misunderstandings between characters to get the audience cracking up. Instead of asking ‘Whodunnit’, “Arsenic and Old Lace” asks questions such as ‘Which one of you did it?’ and ‘Where did you hide the body this time?’
In a show with so many moving parts, a good set is crucial. On top of being exciting to look at, the backdrop of “Arsenic and Old Lace” aids the story with an opening window seat, grand staircase and three functioning actor entrances — four if you include the window, which actors climb through several times.
When the last loose end was tied up and the final twist delivered, the cast and crew stayed behind on opening night after their bows for a reception.
MLT fans can look forward to next weekend’s performances, as well as upcoming productions such as “Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” “Something Rotten” and numerous children’s performances and holiday concerts.
Tickets for “Arsenic and Old Lace” are available to purchase on mltlive.org.