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Arsenic and Old Lace returns

The play for Terrace Little Theatre’s 60th anniversary has special significance for director Marianne Brorup Weston.
‘Prodigal son’ Jonathan Brewster

The play for Terrace Little Theatre’s 60th anniversary has special significance for director Marianne Brorup Weston.

It’s one of only two plays that her late father said he would attend if she ever directed them – Arsenic and Old Lace.

He hated the theatre except for those two plays – the other one was The Importance of Being Earnest – because he felt the theatre was beneath him.

In fact, he hated the theatre so much, he never did see anything she directed.

That’s a theme in this play because playwright Joseph Kesselring hated theatre critics, and how they got to have an opinion so he wrote that into the play.

Without giving anything away, for anyone who isn’t familiar with the story, Arsenic and Old Lace is a classic stage show set in the 1930′s that sees Abby and Martha Brewster, two compassionate and well-meaning elderly women, trying to make a difference in their community.

While their intentions are altruistic, their methods are somewhat misguided and unorthodox as they invite lonely old men into their hilariously tangled web, which becomes even more twisted with an unexpected family reunion.

“This is a play that I just haven’t had as much fun directing since I directed Nunsense for the first time,” says Brorup Weston.

And there’s many reasons for that: the play is a farce, has lots of double entendres, and as it’s a period piece, that makes it interesting as some of the actors are young enough to not know who Teddy Roosevelt and Boris Karloff were.

“That’s been a lot of fun,” she says.

The play was first staged in 1977 by Terrace Little Theatre with Ken Morton playing Teddy and Brian Koven playing Jonathan to name a few of the actors.

And likely casting back then was no easier than it was for Brorup Weston now – the play requires 14 actors.

Many times an actor will play more than one role but that wasn’t possible in this play.

She managed to find someone for every role and it’s the largest cast Brorup Weston has dealt with – before this, 10 was the most actors she’s directed in one play.

For those who have seen the 1944 movie version with Cary Grant, there are a few differences between it and the play, which was written in 1939.

The play takes place entirely in one setting, the Brewster sisters’ living room and main character Mortimer and his girlfriend Elaine get engaged in the play and most notably, the ending is different.

Playwright Joseph Kesselring was going to write it as a drama, but someone convinced him to turn it into a farce and it was his only play that did well, says Brorup Weston.

And audiences can expect to have a lot of fun in what Brorup Weston describes as “a madcap romp of what goes on behind the scenes of nice little aunties living in Brooklyn,” she says.

For more details on the play, which opens Thursday, Dec. 5, see City Scene in the print version of the Terrace Standard.