BWW Review: Portland Stage Serves Up a Delightful Vintage Cocktail with a Twist

BWW Review: Portland Stage Serves Up a Delightful Vintage Cocktail with a Twist

With its winter production of Joseph Kesselring's classic comedy, Arsenic and Old Lace, Portland Stage's serves up a delightful vintage cocktail - complete with more than one amusing twist. The 1947 play, people with a cast of loveable, zany misfits who cheerfully engage in murder and mayhem retains its appeal seven decades later in this stylishly directed and colorfully acted production.

Indeed, the period flavor of the work adds to its charm, and this production with a lavish set by Brittany Vasta that evokes the genteel parlors of yesteryear and costumes worthy of old sepia photos by Hugh Hanson, transports the audience back to the World War II era. Michael Giannitti's lighting adds to the shadowy ambiance of the story, while Chris Fitze's sound design with its background tracks of popular tunes completes the concept.

Paul Mullins directs with a sure hand, pacing the long (by current standards) script with an adroit sense of slow build up. He creates just the right balance between gags and physical comedy and the subtler shadings of the verbal wit, and he inspires each actor to inhabit fully the idiosyncrasies of their characters without allowing them to descend into camp.

As the seemingly sweet, secretly murderous sisters, Abby and Martha Brewster, Maureen Butler and Cristine McMurdo-Wallis capture perfectly the clueless amorality of their actions, managing to remain endearing despite their lunatic behavior. So, too, for James Patefield whose Teddy Brewster is a robustly funny sendup of Theodore Roosevelt, complete with all the blustering mannerisms. John Keabler gives Jonathan Brewster just the right mixture of menace and magnetism, while John Shuman makes his accomplice Dr. Einstein both eccentric and empathetic. Ross Cowan anchors the cast with his mercurial, athletic, agile performance of the increasingly bewildered Mortimer Brewster. Essentially playing the foil to the entire rest of the ensemble, Cowan gives an energetic and engaging account of the role.BWW Review: Portland Stage Serves Up a Delightful Vintage Cocktail with a Twist

The entire supporting cast is strong as well, with Leighton Bryan playing an appropriately stronger willed Elaine than is sometimes seen; Daniel O'Hara as as bumbling Sgt. O'Hara (and Mr. Witherspoon); Will Rhys in a trio of character parts that include the prim Rev. Harper and two other prospective lodgers; and T. Baldassare and Paul Birtwistle as the dim Brooklyn policemen.

In a season of often serious and provocative plays, Arsenic and Old Lace proves to be the perfect antidote to winter doldrums.

Photographs courtesy of Portland Stage, photographer Aaron Flacke

Arsenic and Old Lace runs at Portland Stage from January 24-Februay 19, 2017 at 25 Forrest Ave., Portland, ME. www.portlandstage.org 207-774-0465

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From This Author Carla Maria Verdino-S├╝llwold

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