There is a reason why the Players Club of Swarthmore is currently in their 101st season, after just celebrating their centennial anniversary last year. The reason for this is simple. PCS continues to put on shows of the utmost professional quality. I have never seen a show here that I didn’t like. DOUBT was extraordinary. DEATHTRAP was terrifying. And now we have our latest example in Joseph Kesserling’s ARSENIC & OLD LACE.
As director Bridget Dougherty writes in her program note, “ARSENIC & OLD LACE ran September 25, 1943, through June 17, 1944 for 1,444 performances. There is a reason that this show was such a success and is continuously done at theaters around the world.” To provide an example to Dougherty’s statement, I noticed a palpable buzz in the theater last night. That began right away with the curtain rising on the set. I’ve never heard an audience in community theater clap for a set before, but they did last night. Since the entire action takes place in one set, it is imperative that it be the right one. Designer Brian Boland hits it out of the ballpark with a beautiful two-story house straight out of the 1940s. I spoke with a few people who helped with the set at intermission. They informed me that it took about twenty hours just for stencilling the wall for that “wallpaper” look. It is absolutely stunning.
ARSENIC & OLD LACE is the story of Mortimer Brewster (David DiLiberto), who has come to announce to his two “innocent” aunts, Abby (Joy Hubbard) and Martha (Ruth K. Brown), that he is engaged to Elaine (Keara M. Piekanski). Mortimer is shocked when he discovers that his aunts are providing hospitality to their lodgers in a way that is not…uh, legal. When Mortimer’s long-lost brother, Jonathan (Jim Fryer), arrives with Dr. Einstein (Ken L. Locicero), it becomes an audience game of misunderstandings and one-up-man-ship. Mortimer’s other brother, Teddy (Bill King), must also be dealt with as he thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt. Watching King charge up to his room thinking the stairs are San Juan Hill is a real hoot.
Hubbard and Brown play “innocent” delightfully well, as the Brewster sisters who treat what they do as a normal everyday occurance…sort of like doing the laundry. The best scenes involve Hubbard, Brown, and DiLiberto, who has a very “Seinfeld” way about him. His facial expressions and nuances just add to his disbelief over his aunts’ actions. Locicero has some of the best comic timing I’ve ever seen.
ARSENIC & OLD LACE will have you in hysterics, especially when performed by this exceptionally talented cast. Whatever you do, do not miss the last few lines.
ARSENIC & OLD LACE
By Joseph Kesserling
Directed by Bridget Dougherty
October 21-November 5, 2011
Players Club of Swarthmore
614 Fairview Road
Swarthmore, PA 19081