The Brewster family is insane. The aunts kill old men with poisoned wine, the uncles perform plastic surgery on ex-criminals and only one person in the family realizes that all of it is wrong.
This is the plot of Company Carolina’s “Arsenic and Old Lace,” a dark comedy by Joseph Kesselring, opening tonight. The play follows a family after the aunts, Martha and Abby, decide they’re going to start killing old, lonely men who stay at their lodge in order to put them out of their misery.
See the Show
Time: Friday at 7 p.m.
Location: Historic PlayMakers Theatre
Director and senior dramatic art major Clare Shaffer saw a student production of the show while she was in Dublin, Ireland, studying abroad and said she was struck by the brilliance of the script.
“I thought it was very witty and when I read through it with the cast, our first read-through, literally, it took us three hours to get through it because we were laughing so hard every other line,” Shaffer said.
She said one of the ways she put her own touch on the show was by differentiating the old women. In most productions, she said the old women seem to blend together into one unit, but she wanted them to stand out individually.
“Going in, the primary mark I wanted to make was just to differentiate them and make them humorous in very different ways,” she said. “I think we’ve achieved something that most productions didn’t. They’re more than just sweet old ladies, they’re a little sassy too.”
Shaffer and the cast both said they’re also proud of the voice work in the show and that each character has a distinct character voice that is different from the performer’s normal speaking voice.
Izzy Francke, a senior dramatic art major who portrays Martha Brewster, said the old woman’s voice was just one fun part of the overall role. Francke describes Martha as very cute and old.
“They’re very religious, so they think this is their godly service to the world,” Francke said.
As Francke tried to decide on a favorite line from the play she snapped into her older character. Her makeup created real-looking wrinkles beneath her glasses as she hunched over and the spinster old woman overtook her.
“Well, we put it in the wine because it’s less noticeable. When it’s in tea it has a distinct odor,” Francke said, in character. “That’s a pretty iconic line that I love.”
Christian Payne, a junior dramatic art major who plays the main character, Mortimer Brewster, said his character is the only sane person in the family, but he ends up being the most frantic character because he’s trying to compensate for his family’s craziness.
“It’s just like Scooby-Doo, where they’re running from one door to another in the hallway, and it’s like a ball bouncing back and forth,” Payne said. “It only gets more intense and more hilarious because there are such bizarre happenings but everyone is moving through them at such a normal speed.”
But Shaffer said the play is more than just its hilarious one-liners. She said you see themes about of the nature of right and wrong, and questions about perspective and family.
“It’s seems ironic, because it is such a twisted, messed up family dynamic, but you see the main character Mortimer sort of doing absolutely anything and everything he can to protect the people he loves, even though they’re absolutely nuts,” Shaffer said. “He’s struggling with what I think a lot of us have felt before which is just, ‘How do I deal with my family, they’re a little nuts.’”
Shaffer said there’s one line that sums up the play for her: “Insanity runs in my family — it practically gallops.”
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