BWW Review: MAS COMMUNITY THEATRE'S ARSENIC AND OLD LACE IS KILLLER COMEDY at Carrollwood Cultural Center
Should you ever need to be a lodger in the warm and inviting Brooklyn home of sisters, Abby and Martha Brewster, and you are a male of any age, never admit to being someone without family ties or friends and even more importantly, no matter how delicious the wine is claimed to be, be a teetotaler. Even the tiniest sip of the sister's homemade Elderberry wine should never pass your lips, unless you want an unpleasant surprise and demise.
MAS Community Theatre director Aaron Washington's production of "Arsenic and Old Lace" was exceptionally directed and cast. The sisters played by Georgia Kosloski and Maryann Bardi were so charming, charitable and sweet with Reverand Harper (Bob Andrews), it seemed impossible that they hatched and carried out a diabolic plan of serial killing 13 men, just as easily as making shortbread cookies. Without blinking an eye, they used their mentally-disabled nephew Teddy (Pete Zalizniak) who thought he was Teddy Roosevelt to bury the evidence, bodies he believed to be victims of yellow fever in their cellar, the locks in his Panama Canal.
Pete's portrayal of Teddy was exceptional. Even when he simply sat on the couch with his teddy bear, with no lines, he was perfectly believable as someone in a reality of his own making. The audience laughed every time he blew the trumpet when he "charged" up the stairs aka San Juan Hill. And don't get me started on his adorable pj's....
The story's craziness began when nephew Mortimer (Craig Ruska), a play critic, who loathed plays and musicals, visited his aunts and got engaged to the pastor's coquettish daughter Elaine (Jessica Jax) who lived across the cemetery. While visiting, he searched for a manuscript and accidentally discovered a dead body in the window seat and credited it to Teddy switching from harmless and delusional to psychotic. The aunts were hilarious in their matter-of-factness about the murders, especially when playing against Mortimer. The trio shined in every comedic scene.
"Insanity doesn't run in my family, it practically gallops," said Mortimer.
Sassy Elaine held her own against her befuddled fiancé and later, against Mortimer's older brother Jonathan (Dennis Duggan) and his German accomplice Dr Einstein (Mackley Fogarty).
The madness intensified when Jonathan and Dr. Einstein took shelter in the aunt's home to hide out and dispose of a body after escaping from prison. Dr. Einstein, a plastic surgeon gave Jonathan a botched new face under the influence, and unfortunately, he resembled Boris Karloff, and needed a newer new face. Dennis' character was frightening in its towering ferocity. The perfect makeup application added to the authenticity. Mackley added a comedic element to the two, especially when scorekeeping the murders between Jonathan and the sisters.
When the on-the-lam pair decided to use the Brewster home for criminals to get new identities, Abby provided a deadpan response. "What would the neighbors think if people come in with one face and go out with another?"
One of my favorite scenes in the production involved an oblivious Mortimer who described the perfect way to capture a victim, all the while Jonathan followed his lead for Mortimer.
The bumbling, inept and completely unaware police officers (Jay Gibson, Tyreek Minor, and Derek Rice), especially future playwright (Andrew Allen), only added to the witty mayhem.
The beautiful set build, design and dress by Steven Quillian, Paul Berg, and Shirley Overton respectively and period costumes by Katie Castonguay helped to perfectly set the mood of this vintage production.
It was superb night of hysterical performances by a talented ensemble cast who showcased the nuanced absurdity found in every role of a play that was birthed in 1941.