by Nancy Holley
Special KRL coupon code at the end of this article.
The Visalia Players kick off their 60th anniversary season and 40th year in the Ice House Theatre with the farcical classic Arsenic and Old Lace. Although the play had a run of nearly 1500 performances on Broadway, the movie with Cary Grant brought the story to the general populace.
The Players production of the madcap comedy with quirky characters is made zanier by the unusual racial and gender casting mix chosen by director Lindsay Tweed. The actors include veteran performers from Tulare and Kings Counties. “My interpretation is that this show has interest for everyone, and casting is one way to create that interest.”
The cast also includes a generational span from septuagenarians to teenagers that imbues the vintage piece with excitement and energy. Tweed commented, “Martha (Leeni Mitchell) is sweet and slow, and Abby (Gwenn Spratt) brings sassiness, while Mortimer (Mike Seitz) and Elaine (Leiana Petlewski) provide youthful exuberance.”
The Brewster sisters, Martha and Abby, are well liked by their neighbors, Rev. Dr. Harper (Peter McGuire) and his daughter, Elaine, as well as the local beat cops, Officer Brophy (Kim Spicer) and Officer O’Hara (Emily Brazil). No one suspects the elderly sisters are helping lonely old bachelors find peace through elderberry wine.
Martha and Abby have an unlikely trio of nephews in Mortimer, Teddy (Jack Patino), and Jonathan (Mike Spicer). Seitz noted, “Mortimer’s relationship with his aunts is how one might view grandparents. They need to be fed and looked after.”
Patino quipped, “The aunts are the bosses. Teddy builds the locks in Panama at their bidding without question.” Spicer chuckled and related, “Who would suspect that the aunts would one up Jonathan in dead bodies?”
Teddy’s belief that he is Roosevelt storming San Juan Hill is seen as harmless by the aunts and his siblings, but Spratt identifies Jonathan as a “bad seed.” Jonathan’s constant need to change his identity is sinister to all, particularly when he brings his alcoholic plastic surgeon Dr. Einstein (Velva Hampson) to the family home.
The youngest cast member, Petlewski is excited to play a street-smart adult, in love with Mortimer. “She keeps him in line with her witty remarks. I think Mortimer loves her because she doesn’t fall all over him.”
McGuire adds to the uniqueness of the play by portraying multiple characters. “The Rev. Dr. Harper is a very prim, proper, old fashioned pastor who likes to be fed by the Brewster sisters.” Then, as Mr. Gibbs, “I’m an older unattached man looking for a room to rent, similar to those the sisters want to help.” In the end, “I’m a chief of detectives wanting to be anywhere, but dealing with the Brewster sisters.”
In discussing the production, Mitchell emphasizes, “People will have a wonderful time. It’s a great start to a new season.” Mike Spicer sees it “as a lived classic. It never dies. It just goes on.” Petlewski notes, “Kids will like it because of the physical comedy.”
For Spratt, the importance of the show is that “it’s been done so many times. Yet people perform it and want to see it. It’s timeless.”
Patino points out that “it’s a beautiful balance of subtle and slapstick humor. You don’t have to punch the lines. They speak for themselves.” Brazil identifies the Tweed production as “a very energetic, quirky take on a classic.”
Perhaps Tweed says it best. “It’s fun, fast paced, exciting humor that flips stereotypes on their heads. The play is a classic for a reason.”
Arsenic and Old Lace opens at the Ice House Theatre at Race and Santa Fe in Visalia at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, August 5, 2016 and runs for three weekends with evening performances at 7:30 p.m. on 8/5, 8/6, 8/12, 8/13, 8/19, and 8/20 and matinees at 2:00 p.m. on 8/7, 8/14, and 8/21.
For more information about the Visalia Community Players and to purchase tickets, check out their website and KRL’s article about VCP. Tickets may also be purchased by calling 734-3900. For details about local arts groups in Tulare County, visit the Visalia Arts Consortium website.
Check out even more local theatre reviews & articles in our Arts & Entertainment section!
To purchase two tickets for the price of one, enter KRLAOL in the Have a code? box on the Buy/Redeem Tickets Reservation page via the Players website.