Murder will out, eventually, in the charming “Arsenic and Old Lace,” directed by Sarah O’Hara and now on stage at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore. This community theatre offering is a cozy little farce supported by strong lead performances.
We open on a well-appointed living room during afternoon tea. Abby Brewster entertains the minister, and dialogue quickly establishes the time period (“I’ve almost come to the conclusion that Mr. Hitler isn’t a Christian!”) The family seems a little eccentric (Abby’s live-in nephew believes he’s Teddy Roosevelt) but we don’t know by how much until Abby’s sister Martha arrives, and we realize things are not quite what they seem.
But it’s not until the sisters’ other nephew, Mortimer arrives, that all (or some) is revealed, when he accidentally discovers a corpse in the window seat. More shocking than the discovery, is that his aunts have made murder into a hobby.
Beverly Serio Edwards as Abby and Marianne Sohn as Martha Brewster are excellent as the doting but deadly aunts. The contrast between their soft domestic graces and the reality of their body count is wickedly funny, as is their gentle bewilderment at Mortimer’s shock. Martha warmly describes their preferred poison concoction like it’s a pie recipe, finished with a “pinch of cyanide.”
…a cozy little farce supported by strong lead performances.
The high contrast between deeds and outward appearances is supported by the design of the show. The sisters bustle around an inviting living room full of the titular old lace, dressed in patterned prints and frills courtesy of costume designer Sally Kahn. Understated piano embellishments (courtesy of LeVar Betts) create an atmosphere of suspicion and tension, when needed.
Playwright Joseph Kesselring’s script features the hallmark sharp banter and one-liners of the 1940s. “Insanity runs in my family—it practically gallops,” Mortimer later explains to his paramour Elaine. Lou Otero ably communicates Mortimer’s mounting stress, as over the course of the night, he attempts to shield his aunts from the consequences of their actions, while also preventing further victims.
That becomes even more difficult as the outlandish plot tangles further with the arrival of the prodigal Jonathan (a great Christopher Pence), a long-lost nephew and brother to Mortimer. A distinctly menacing presence, he’s a man of many faces—literally, as he has his plastic surgeon, and partner in crime, Dr. Einstein (Michael Maistros) in tow.
Suffice it to say that hijinks ensue, and ensue some more. Clever, last-minute revelations clear up some tangles, though not others. Appropriate for this story, some characters prosper, and others meet a satisfying end.
Run time: Aproximately 2-1/2 hours with one 10-minute intermission.
“Arsenic and Old Lace” runs through March 13, 2022 at Artistic Synergy of Baltimore. The performance venue is Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, 8212 Philadelphia Rd, Rosedale, MD 21237. See their website for tickets and more information.