Review: ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ at Candlelight Theatre in Wilmington, DE

Arsenic and Old Lace, directed by Tom Teti at the Candlelight Theatre, is a classic case of old-fashioned fun. This farcical dark comedy provides plenty of laughs for audiences of all ages. The classic American play by Joseph Kesselring, is a dubious tale of two murderous aunts who see their killing as an act of charity. Their nephew, a theatre critic, spends most of the play attempting to unravel the deadly mess his aunts have weaved. Throw in a long-lost brother, whose face is supposed to look like Frankenstein, another brother who believes he is Teddy Roosevelt, and you have a pretty entertaining night on your hands.

Susan Giddings, Susan Dewey, and Jim Rubright. Photo by Cindy Millison
Susan Giddings, Susan Dewey, and Jim Rubright. Photo by Cindy Millison

Arsenic and Old Lace is  based on the real grisly murders by Amy Archer-Gilligan but Joseph Kesselring decided to create the comical characters Abby and Martha Brewster to tell a lighter version of the historical drama. The play could ultimately be taken as a commentary on the deplorable situation of mental health care as it flips the polite manners of gentile society on its head.

The aunts, Martha and Abby Brewster, played by Susan Giddings and Susan Dewey respectfully, have an incredible chemistry and are positively charming as the heartbeats of this comedy. Their subtle and seasoned humor brings laughs from lines that would normally only cause light chuckles.

Mortimer Brewster, the nephew and theatre critic, is played by the rather green actor Dave Polgar. While Polgar was charming to watch, his rather ecstatic energy tended to outrun the words he was saying. Playing Brewster’s fiancee’ Elaine Harper is the lovely Megan Pisors. It was a treat getting to see her on stage and left me wanting more scenes with Elaine in them.

The real show-stealer of the night was Dr. Einstein, played by David T. Wills, who added some incredible improvs into scenes that kept some of the more outdated humor drawing laughs. His partner in crime, Jonathon Brewster (Jim Rubright), was charmingly smarmy. David Owen Cashell played the lovable Teddy and was perfectly on point with even the most bombastic scenes. The rest of the ensemble, including a cop with a bad Irish accent, a clueless Pastor, and a police officer dreaming of being a playwright, help to mold the already clownish world.

Susan Giddings and , Susan Dewey. Photo by Cindy Millison.
Susan Dewey and Susan Giddings. Photo by Cindy Millison.

The physical world created on the Candlelight Stage was beautiful. The two-story set design by Envision Productions was crafted with care and the set dressing by Amanda Gillies shaped a house that has been lived in for years. The lighting design by Mark Clapp was lovely. The real standout were the costumes by Tony Oriente. Each actor looked like they had just stepped out of a 1940’s magazine. Elaine’s costumes were particularly flattering. The makeup design by Clayton Stacey left me wanting more for Jonathon. His scars looked much more like mud smudges on his cheek than deep gauges from several facial reconstruction surgeries.

Arsenic and Old Lace is a delightful comedy that is still able to keep audiences giggling. The Candlelight Theatre, a hidden gem in Delaware, has offered up a solid take on this American Comedy Classic.

Running Time: Approximately two hours plus a 20-minute intermission.

Arsenic and Old Lace plays through June 19, 2016 at The Candlelight Theatre, 2208 Millers Road, Wilmington, DE. For tickets call (302) 475-2313, or purchase them online.


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