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Theatre Review: Arsenic and Old Lace in Saranac Lake

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"Arsenic and Old Lace runs in repertory through the end of August at Pendragon Theatre in Saranac Lake. NCPR theatre critic Connie Meng was at a recent performance and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

Most theatre-goers are familiar with ARSENIC AND OLD LACE by Joseph Kesselring, the play about two sweetly innocent but murderous old biddies, their drama critic nephew and his not-so-innocent murderous older brother.  ARSENIC AND OLD LACE remains a perennial favorite largely because of the wonderful characters, (don't forget Teddy Roosevelt), and its humor that doesn't date.

The current production at Pendragon in most respects does justice to the play.  Kent Streed's admirable set is be-decked with appropriate paintings and lace curtains.  Only the plain brown cellar door seems out of place.  His costumes are also very good, especially the Aunts' funeral garb.  If I might suggest a couple of minor improvements - press the side seams of the ladies' long skirts flat and give Mortimer a tie clip.

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE has a large cast and this is a fairly balanced one.  Often smaller roles are neglected, but not in this production.  Tracy Lamb is fine as Lieutenant Rooney as is Tim Jock as Mr. Gibbs, whose precipitous exit made me giggle.  Tommy Delahant makes an excellent and touching Mr. Witherspoon.  I hope to see him in other productions.

As Elaine, the ingénue love interest, Erin Gandia is rather one-dimensional, but improves somewhat in Act III.  Rodney Creech is quite wonderful as the would-be playwright Officer O'Hara.  His naiveté and enthusiasm are thoroughly believable and very funny.

Unfortunately Stu Rutter is thoroughly unbelievable as Jonathan, the murderously psychotic brother.  He fits the role physically, but plays it all on one note without ever projecting a sense of menace or madness.  On the other hand, Jordan Hornstein is excellent as his side-kick, Dr. Einstein.  He gives us a three-dimensional rather sympathetic bad guy, complete with a consistent accent.

As the two genteel poisoners, Fran Yardley as Abby and Binnie Ritchie Holum as Martha are both very good and play very well together.  Joe McLaughlin does a nice job as their nephew, a drama critic who hates theatre.  In the flashy role of Teddy, Jason Brill is excellent.  Never going over the top, he makes us believe that Teddy truly believes he IS Teddy Roosevelt.

Bonnie B. Brewer has done a nice job of directing and staging.  She's added some entertaining touches such as Abby and Martha's choreographed table setting.  She's also made good use of their height difference, particularly in their greetings to Mortimer.

We tend to forget what fun older plays like ARSENIC AND OLD LACE are.  They've remained popular for a reason.  Pendragon has come up with an entertaining production of a tasty chestnut.

On a scale of one to five, the Pendragon production of ARSENIC AND OLD LACE gets four and one-sixth pine trees.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.

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