BWW Interview: Renown Actress of the Screen and Stage, Harriet Harris, On Arsenic and Old Lace and Letting Yourself Laugh

BWW Interview: Renown Actress of the Screen and Stage, Harriet Harris, On Arsenic and Old Lace and Letting Yourself Laugh

Renown actress of the screen and stage, Harriet Harris (Tony Award; Thoroughly Modern Millie; Bebe Glazer on the hit show, Frasier) joins Berkshire Theatre Group this summer in the classic Joseph Kesselring's play, Arsenic and Old Lace. A play that has gone down in history for its dark humor, Arsenic and Old Lace revolves around the crazy lives of the Brewster family. Harris plays one half of a dynamic sister duo, Abby Brewster, who believes that they are doing the population of lonely, old gentleman a service by offering them their arsenic-laced wine. These twisted acts of charity are just one example of the casual nature that the play presents when it comes to death and other taboo subjects that give audience members permission to laugh at its absurd nature.

BroadwayWorld had the honor of catching up with Harris as the run winds down to discuss this infamous play; working with the Berkshire Theatre Group and the restorative nature of theater; and giving yourself permission to laugh from time to time.

How have you been enjoying your time with Berkshire Theatre Group?

I'm really enjoying myself. It's such wonderful theater and lovely company. This play is so much fun and I'm very lucky to have my first experience with Berkshire Theatre group this summer!.

Arsenic and Old Lace has kept audiences laughing since 1941. What elements do you think attribute to that continued vitality?

The way in which the play uses humor is unique, because the audience is delighted to laugh at something that is a taboo. In our every day, people don't take the time to laugh - but when they come to the theater, it's so healthy for them to let go and let themselves enjoy.

What is it like being part of this one-of-a-kind sister duo from the viewpoint of your character, Abby Brewster?

I have a sister in real life and it's often the different viewpoints that keep things interesting (laughs). These two sisters [Abby and Martha] are always around each other and their genetic make-up is almost identical. They do everything together and have the same mind about matters. They really only talk to themselves and don't engage much with people outside of their family circle. There is no real conflict between them, which is pretty uncharacteristic of real-life sisters! It's really fun to dive into Abby and be part of this unique family!

Can you talk about the themes that have stuck with you the most?

In the first scene, Teddy [Brewster] says, "Not so much talk about Europe and more about the canal" and then Abby remarks, "Let's not talk about the war. Will you have another cup of tea?" That line really displays the casual nature of the play, when it comes to moving past more serious issues. It also is illustrative of moving past existing fears and being taken someplace else. That's my favorite thing about theater -- the fact that it provides an escape. The theme of what theater overall represents -- an experience that leaves you refreshed and restored -- is very meaningful and something that I come back to often during the course of the play.

Another major theme also begs the question, "How far would you go to protect your family?" This theme plays out a lot when it comes to this group and the decisions they make.

Is there a certain role that is on your wish list that you haven't experienced yet?

I've actually spent a lot of time recently thinking about that and I've been very happy with what has come my way. You just never know what's out there or what's currently being created that may just be the right fit - I'm looking forward to letting life surprise me.

Arsenic and Old Lace Runs Through August 19th. To purchase tickets,

please call 413-997- 4444, online at

Photo By: Michael Sullivan

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