It’s hard to believe, but playwright Joseph Kesselring originally conceived of Arsenic and Old Lace as a drama. Kesselring, a music professor at Bethel College in North Newton Kansas, may have drawn inspiration for the play from his time living on Bethel’s campus. Local tradition at Bethel suggests that Kesselring used the Goerz House—now on the National Register of Historic Places—as a setting for his play, where sweet spinster sisters Martha and Abby Brewster poison lonely men and bury them in the cellar.
Or perhaps Kesselring sought to adapt the life of nurse Amy Duggan Archer-Gilligan for the stage. Archer-Gilligan, a nursing home proprietor, poisoned at least five people, including her second husband and residents of the nursing home. Archer-Gilligan’s case was highly publicized, and the similarities between her story and the Brewster sisters’ well-intentioned poisonings are plain to see.
But whatever the inspiration—Queen Anne style boarding house or murderous nurse—Kesselring’s play became the farcical black comedy opening January 24th at the Owen Theatre in Conroe, Texas. In this adaptation, the larger-than-life characters are portrayed by veteran actors and new additions to the stage alike.
Marilyn Moore and Terry Lynn Hale, playing Abby and Martha Brewster, will leave audiences in stitches. Bother performers are veterans of the stage, and their chemistry together is a highlight of the show. No less capable is Katt Gilcrease, who plays the villainous Jonathan Brewster, one of Abby and Martha’s nephews. Jonathan makes a sudden reappearance and threatens to upend Abby and Martha’s peaceful life. Dale Trimble portrays larger-than-life nephew Teddy Brewster, who lives with Abby and Martha and believes that he is the 26th President of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt. And rounding out the Brewster family is Jonathan Stone, playing dramatic critic Mortimer Brewster.
Alongside the main cast are both familiar faces and newcomers to the Owen Stage.
Dixie Cooper plays the stern, no-nonsense Superintendent Witherspoon, Jonathan Thompson portrays both lonely old Mr. Gibbs and fussbudget Lieutenant Rooney. Michael Hayes is Dr. Harper, father to Elaine Harper, played by Amanda Abright. Elaine and Mortimer are soon to be married, unless Abby, Martha, and Jonathan’s antics stop their impending marriage. Jonathan’s longsuffering and mysterious sidekick—Dr. Hermann Einstein—is played by the highly capable John Kaiser, recently seen on the Owen Stage in Lend Me a Tenor. Finally, Steve Murphree, Dalton Cook, and Travis Cook round out the cast as a group of less-than-capable, but well-meaning, Brooklyn Police Officers who get pulled into the Brewsters’ antics. With sweet spinster sisters with a penchant for poison and a villainous nephew with a kooky side-kick, Arsenic and Old Lace is sure to be a hilariously macabre good time. Tickets can be purchased at the Owen Theatre Box Office in person, Tue.-Fri. from 3-6pm, by calling 936-539-4090, or by visiting owentheatre.com. Arsenic and Old Lace runs January 24-Feb. 8 at the Owen Theatre.