Laugh Out Loud with ARSENIC AND OLD LACE at the Odyssey

Two murderous old ladies, a Theodore Roosevelt impersonator, a Boris Karloff look-alike and a theater critic in love. Odyssey Theatre Ensemble presents a revival of Joseph Kesserling's infectiously funny black comedy Arsenic and Old Lace. Directed by Elina de Santos, opening night is August 26 at the Odyssey Theatre.

J.B. Waterman (The Dragon Play at Chance Theater, The Curse of Oedipus at Antaeus) plays Mortimer, the drama critic who hates theater, and Liesel Kopp (The Rising and Porn Rock at Hollywood Fringe) is the girl he wants to marry. But just as Mortimer ventures to share their good news with his seemingly harmless little-old-lady aunts (Jacque Lynn Colton, whose numerous Odyssey credits include The Threepenny Opera, and Sheelagh Cullen, recently seen at the Odyssey in Beckett5), he discovers the sisters' proclivity for murdering lonely old men as an act of charity. Add Mortimer's crazy brothers Teddy (Alex Elliott-Funk-Supper at Theatre of Note), who thinks he's Theodore Roosevelt, and homicidal maniac Jonathan (Gera Hermann-The Physicists at Hollywood Fringe), who looks like Boris Karrloff thanks to phony plastic surgeon Dr. Einstein (Ron Bottitta-Rules of Seconds at LATC, The Arsonists at the Odyssey) - and the result is a mix of laugh-out-loud hilarity and macabre mayhem. Also in the ensemble are Alan Abelew (Beckett5, Oedipus Machina and more at the Odyssey), Michael Antosy (The Sexual Lives of Savages at Skylight Theatre Company), Darius De La Cruz (Bull at Rogue Machine), Mat Hayes (The Boy from Oz at Celebration Theatre) and Yusef Lambert (Carmen with San Francisco Opera).

"The irreverence in this play is just delicious," says de Santos. "It's one of the funniest plays I've ever read, and it plays like crazy. Don't we all just need a good laugh these days?"

Inspired by real-life serial killer Amy Archer-Gilligan, who was convicted of poisoning her boarders for their pensions, Kesselring initially set out to pen a horror/melodrama with the title Bodies in Our Cellar. He sent the script to actress Dorothy Stickney, hoping she might consider playing one of the aunts. The interest of Stickney's husband, producer Howard Lindsay, was immediately piqued when he heard his wife gasping with laughter as she read. Lindsay joined forces with frequent partner Russel Crouse - the two were fresh off the Broadway hit Life with Father - to purchase the script. Together with Kesselring, they completely reworked it into a comedy. In a moment of inspired writing and casting, the character of Jonathan Brewster was said to look like Boris Karloff - and Karloff himself was convinced to play the role on stage. Arsenic and Old Lace debuted on Broadway in 1941. New York Times theater critic Brooks Atkinson wrote that it was "so funny none of us will ever forget it." The New York Herald Tribune called it "riotously hilarious," and The New York Herald-Tribune pronounced it "side-splitting and terrific." It went on to play 1,444 performances and was made into a now-classic film directed by Frank Capra and starring Cary Grant.

At the Odyssey, the creative team includes set designer Bruce Goodrich, lighting designer Leigh Allen; Sound Designer Christopher Moscatiello, costume designer Amanda Martin and props master Misty Carlisle. The stage manager is Morgan Wilday, the assistant director is Everett Keeter, and Odyssey Theatre Ensemble produces.

Performances of Arsenic and Old Lace take place on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. from Aug. 26 through Oct. 8. Additional weeknight performances are scheduled on Wednesday, Sept.13; Thursday, Sept. 28; and Thursday, Oct. 5, all at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 on Wednesdays and Thursdays; $30 on Fridays; and $34 on Saturdays and Sundays. Children ages 8-12 are $10. There will be two "Tix for $10" performances: Wednesday, Sept. 13; and Thursday, Oct. 5. The third Friday of every month is wine night at the Odyssey: enjoy complimentary wine and snacks and mingle with the cast after the show.

The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles, 90025. For reservations and information, call (310) 477-2055 or go to OdysseyTheatre.com.

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