Have you ever visited your old aunts and stumbled across a rotting corpse stored inside of their window seat? If not, you can imagine Mortimer’s surprise when he does just that in Joseph Kesselring’s 1939 dark comedy, "Arsenic and Old Lace." Mount Vernon High School’s production stayed true to the insanity, homicide, and hilariously disturbing characters provided by Kesselring’s script.
The plot takes place in the home of Abby (Qudsiyya Hewlett) and Martha (Taylor Wise) Brewster. Among the kooky frequenters of the Brewster home is Teddy Brewster (Andrew McKellips), who thinks he is president Teddy Roosevelt; Mortimer (Malcolm Montgomery), who can’t quite understand how he, a straight-laced drama critic, fits into his nutty family; and Elaine (Katelyn Arthur), who is set on edge by her boyfriend Mortimer’s reluctance to marry her. The play kicks off when Mortimer discovers that his seemingly harmless aunts have poisoned 12 men with elderberry wine laced with arsenic. Just as Mortimer is trying to deal with his homicidal aunts, his homicidal brother Jonathan Brewster (Kevin McNelis) returns home with an alcoholic plastic surgeon named Dr. Einstein (Eddie Maldonado), a hatred for his estranged family, and a corpse of his own. The hilarity and confusion that ensues is intensified by unexpected visits from cops and several near discoveries of bodies. It concludes in the only way possible — Martha and Abby Brewster committing themselves to the Happy Dale Sanitarium.
The cast of Mount Vernon’s production did a good job keeping up the pace of a show in which good timing is essential. Several actors used effective physical expression to make the most of their comedic moments.
Among the highlights were the intermittent entrances and exits of Andrew McKellips as the identity-confused Teddy Brewster. From charging up the stairs with sword in hand, to tip-toeing across stage with a body precariously draped over his back, McKellips created a character that was fun to watch from start to finish. Another highlight was Eddie Maldonado as Dr. Einstein. The way he played off his enraged partner in crime, his goofy mannerisms, and his hilarious, yet ethnically-ambiguous accent never ceased to entertain the audience. Although some moments lacked energy, the actors did a good job remembering all of their lines.
The makeup, applied by Ciera Pritchard, effectively made the aunts look old, and gave Jonathan realistic surgery scars. An especially interesting technical convention was the use of a spotlight to create the effect of a flickering candle during a scene that took place late at night.
By the end of Mount Vernon’s production of "Arsenic and Old Lace," after it is made abundantly clear that the Brewster family truly is insane, the audience is glad to discover along with Mortimer, that he is actually not a member of this disturbed and disturbing family.
<b>By Jeremy Rommel </b>
Westfield High School
<i>Cappies is a high school critics and awards program involving more than 50 schools in the Virginia, Maryland and D.C. areas.</i>