BWW Review: ARSENIC AND OLD LACE at Upstart Arts

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BWW Review: ARSENIC AND OLD LACE at Upstart Arts

Arsenic and Old Lace at Upstart Arts

By Christine Koslosky

Joseph Kesselring's Arsenic and Old Lace has long been a staple of high school and community theaters ever since playing on Broadway for four straight years from 1941-1944. But for director Michelle Denise Norton of Upstart Arts in York, Arsenic and Old Lace is what passes for a "new" play. That's because for 20 years, the theater group of which she is the self-described "creative engine" has been bringing Shakespeare to the York public in parks and on bridges and streets and wherever it's a good idea to bring live theater; namely, everywhere.

This month, Norton went out on a limb and decided to forego the group's usual public domain fare to purchase the rights to Arsenic and Old Lace. The result was an energetic and fun romp backwards in time to a Brooklyn of gangsters and bad guys, the kinds of people in need of some plastic surgery just to stay on the right side of the law.

The plot is familiar, featuring the eccentric Brewster aunts Abby and Martha, endearingly played by Gayle Eubank and Julie Muszyniski, who poison lonely old men with their homemade elderberry wine - it's an act of kindness, really, of which they make no secret. Their crazy nephew Teddy Brewster, who actually thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt, is more than happy to dig the Panama Canal in the basement, the better to bury the bodies there. Vincent Skinner's mock seriousness as Teddy Roosevelt in this production, together with his bugle playing and cries of "Charge!," lent just the right touch of humor to the proceedings. Other standouts, especially in the comic arena, were Calvin Emery's Mortimer Brewster (especially when reacting to his aunts' grotesque doings dumped in the windowseat), and Bob McCleary's Jonathan Brewster, as a bulging-eyeballed and mock creepy Boris Karlov-style murderous psychopath a la Marty Feldman. The entire cast did their part in bringing Upstart's version of this classic wacky comedy in record time: 2 ½ hours, with two short intermissions. That's saying a lot for the art of fast-paced comedy in an era when the 80-minute no-intermission play is becoming the norm.

Upstart Arts wrapped up its production of Arsenic and Old Lace on February 23. Next on their agenda is Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, to be performed in parks around York County from July 21 to August 2. Auditions will be held at St. John's Episcopal Church in York on May 27 and 28. More information can be found at or


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