One is unlikely to find more charming ladies than Abby and Martha Brewster, providing one avoids a glass of the sisters’ homemade elderberry wine while visiting their home in Brooklyn, N.Y.
That’s one of the plot points in Joseph Kesselring’s comedy classic “Arsenic and Old Lace,” which will be performed by the River City Theatre Company (RCTC) at Watertown-Mayer Primary School in Watertown at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 22, Thursday, Feb. 28 and Friday, March 1 and at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23, Sunday, Feb. 24 and Saturday, March 2. Tickets are $6 for adults and $5 for youth 17 and under.
The play is a farcical comedy set in 1941. Mortimer Brewster, a drama critic who must deal with his crazy, homicidal family and local police in Brooklyn as he debates whether to go through with his recent promise to marry the woman he loves.
His family includes two spinster aunts who have taken to murdering lonely old men by poisoning them with a glass of home-made elderberry wine laced with arsenic, strychnine, and “just a pinch” of cyanide; a brother who believes he is Theodore Roosevelt and digs locks for the Panama Canal in the cellar of the Brewster home (which then serve as graves for the aunts’ victims); and a murderous brother who has received plastic surgery performed by an alcoholic accomplice, Dr. Einstein, to conceal his identity and now looks like horror-film actor Boris Karloff.
Heidi Hoks of Norwood Young America, known for her work as a librarian with the Carver County Library system, is the show’s artistic director.
“Inspired by the true story of Amy Archer-Gilligun who murdered elderly men for their pensions, ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ started out as a melodrama in American playwright Joseph Kesselring’s mind,” Hoks said. “However, it wasn’t long into rehearsals that his producers convinced him to make it comedic.”
Hoks said the play is a true oxymoron as it is both a comedy and a melodrama.
“It is built on action, not characters, and yet it is the delightful characters who make it so charming,” she said. “The characters themselves are written to be almost caricatures, and yet there is something in the script that brings them to life as lovable and believable. The physical and verbal humor as well as the eccentric characters in the production make it an undeniable treat.”
Hoks noted the show’s continuing popularity and how it’s often considered to be an actor’s dream show.
“I have long wanted to direct this show because of the characters, the show’s historic references and its gentle intertwining of farce and drama,” she said. “To direct this show and also have the River City Theatre Company’s support of the library as a bonus make this a delight for me. RCTC has agreed to donate a portion of the proceeds from this production for the remodeling of the Watertown Library. The Library is a vital part of the community, as is the RCTC. To have this kind of support shows a commitment in the community to keeping the Watertown infrastructure strong for all of its residents.”
The cast and crew of “Arsenic and Old Lace” have been working since early January on the show. They are a dedicated group, as evidenced by husband and wife Josh Guetzkow (Mortimer) and Lindsay Zumbrunnen (set designer) of Watertown, who missed only a handful of rehearsals for the birth of their daughter, Autumn. Many in the cast have either been in the show before or watched relatives perform in the show years ago.
To learn more about RCTC, visit www.rivercitytheatrecompany.org.
Abby: Sandy Seha-Luoma, Watertown; Martha: Suzi Larkin, Watertown; Mrs. Harper, the wife of Rev. Harper: Teri Hilk, Watertown; Teddy: Dale Heckenlaible, Buffalo; Elaine: Emma Kopp, Delano; Mortimer: Josh Guetzkow, Watertown; Jonathan: James Neumann, Winsted; Dr. Einstein: Todd Moen, Waconia; Miss Witherspoon: Hannah Rosholt, Waconia; Officer Brophy: Brigit Larkin, Watertown; Officer Klein: Grace Filek, Watertown; Officer O’Malley: Landon Tourville, Montrose; Lt Rooney: Ty Heckenlaible, Buffalo; Officer O’Hara: Jamie Thul, Watertown; Mr. Gibbs: Thomas Larkin,Watertown.
Artistic Director: Heidi Hoks, Norwood Young America; Stage Manager: Dave Kind, Watertown; Set Designer: Lindsay Zumbrunnen, Watertown; Costume Designer: Sarah Sakry, Inver Grove Heights; Sound Designer: Ben Maas, Watertown; Lighting Designer: Mollee Erickson, Hopkins; Publicity Coordinator: Josh Guetzkow, Watertown; Asst. Stage Manager / Tech Asst.: Sophie Luoma, Watertown; Asst. Costumer: Brigit Larkin, Watertown; Properties Asst.: Katie Larkin, Watertown.