BWW Reviews: ARSENIC AND OLD LACE Brings Fun, Frivolity to SBCC
The SBCC Theatre Group at Santa Barbara City College kicks off its season this summer with a bit of light entertainment in the form of Joseph Kesselring's humorous classic, Arsenic and Old Lace. Kesselring's play about members of the Brewster family, some of whom dabble in light-hearted homicide, doesn't run deep with emotional substance, but it serves as a fun foray into light, physical comedy. The cast is comprised of familiar faces from the Santa Barbara acting community: Chris Short plays an ebullient and hilarious brother Teddy; Leslie Story is the delightful-but-deadly Aunt Abby, who's twisted sense of empathy leaves a hefty body count; Samantha Eve is the pretty, perpetually put-out fiancé, Elaine; and an almost unrecognizable John Brindle prowls the stage as the sociopathic brother Jonathan.
When Mortimer Brewster discovers that his two spinster aunts are poisoning lonely male borders in an attempted expression of compassion, he hatches a plan to commit his brother, Teddy (who believes himself to be Teddy Roosevelt), to an institution for the insane, and pin the murders on him to save his aunts. Complications arise when Mortimer's brother Jonathan, on the run from the law, arrives unannounced, unrecognizable after several plastic surgeries to change his appearance, and hauling a murder victim. Mortimer's fiancé, Elaine, gets tangled in the chaos, despite Mortimer's ham-fisted attempts to shield her from his family's dark legacy. The director (Katie Laris) and designers have some fun with the set and staging; the stage is transformed into a dark parlor reminiscent of a Victorian mortuary. Amidst the perfunctory misunderstandings, cases of misidentification, and murder-without-consequences, there are some very clever highlights. At one point, a drunken police officer corners the murderous Jonathan and his victim, a bound and gagged Mortimer, to explain the long and convoluted plot of a play he is writing. The lights come up and down to create the illusion of a montage: each brief glimpse presents the characters in a different positions: the officer animated and excited to have an audience, while the rest of the characters grow progressively bored and impatient. It's a clever storytelling device that allows for stylish summarization while remaining within the scene.
The show is solely for comedic value, and the plot ties itself into a nice bow in the end. In no way does Arsenic attempt to expound on deep thematic issues of empathy within the bounds of morality-it's frivolous summer fare that's fun to experience because it's clear that the performers are enjoying themselves on stage. The pacing is a bit luxurious, though I'm sure it will tighten throughout the run. Arsenic and Old Lace is a standard of comedic theatre performed well by the Theatre Group, and enjoyed by cast and audience alike.
Arsenic and Old Lace
Santa Barbara City College