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The Towne Players of Garner’s Rendition of “Arsenic and Old Lace” Is an Uproarious Black Comedy

Madness doesn’t just run through the Brewster family of Brooklyn, NY; it gallops! Matriarchs Abby and Martha Brewster (played by Francis Stanley and Kelly Stansell in the Towne Players of Garner’s robust community-theater production of Arsenic and Old Lace) are a pair of sweet little old ladies and pillars of the church, well known for their countless acts of charity for the less fortunate. Indeed, they so deeply empathize with lonely old men, bereft of friends and family, living lives of quiet desperation, that they open their home to them, supplying with bed and board at a bargain price. Then to end their lodgers’ suffering, the sisters serve them a glass of their own delicious home-made elderberry wine before meals, with just a dash of arsenic!

Kelly Stansell and especially Francis Stanley are a hoot as Martha and Abby, busting cheerfully around the house while waiting for their next boarder/victim to arrive. Tim Upchurch is a stitch as their burly nephew Teddy Brewster, who thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt and spends his day reliving episodes from the life and career of Rough Rider Colonel and later President Roosevelt.

Assuming Roosevelt’s Rough Rider persona — and uniform — Teddy Brewster brandishes a saber, blows his bugle at all hours, and charges up his aunt’s stairs like they are San Juan Hill. Meanwhile, he is simultaneously hard at work as President Roosevelt, digging the Panama Canal in the basement of the Brewster family home. The 12 locks dug to date each contain one of the victims of his aunts’ mercy-killing spree.

Into this cuckoo’s nest regularly flutters the high-strung drama critic Mortimer Brewster (Stephen Johnson), the aunts’ favorite and most attentive nephew; and where Mortimer goes, his girlfriend Elaine Harper (Paige Bruner) follows, hoping that Mortimer will finally pop the question. Director Beth Honeycutt encourages and/or allows Stephen Johnson to take Mortimer a little too far over the top, and fly to pieces at the least provocation; but Paige Bruner gives a solid performance as Elaine.

Stuart Jonap and especially Tim Wiest are terrific as revenge-minded serial killer-on-the-lam Jonathan Brewster — who hates Mortimer — and his personal plastic surgeon Dr. Einstein, an alcoholic whose shaky fingers have left Jonathan looking like Frankenstein star Boris Karloff!

The principal players in the Towne Players presentation all demonstrate a fine flair for comedy, even if some of the supporting players struggle. Although rough in spots, the Garner community theater’s production of Arsenic and Old Lace is an uproarious romp through New York dramatist and screenwriter Joseph O. Kesselring’s classic black comedy, which made its Broadway debut in 1941 and has been playing somewhere ever since!

The Towne Plays present ARSENIC AND OLD LACE at 8 p.m. Oct. 18 and 19 and 2 and 8 p.m. Oct. 20 in the Garner Performing Arts Center, 742 W. Garner Rd., Garner, North Carolina 27529.

TICKETS: $12 ($10 students and seniors 55+).

BOX OFFICE: Tickets will be sold at the door.






The Play: (Wikipedia).

Study Guide: (Utah Shakespeare Festival).

The Playwright: (Wikipedia).

The Film: (Wikipedia) and (Internet Movie Database).

The Director: (Facebook).


Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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