Originally created 08/11/00

'Arsenic' laced with laughter



The kindly Brewster sisters have been poisoning nice old men and burying them in their basement. But don't worry. They have the best intentions.

From that unlikely premise, playwright Joseph Kesselring unspooled Arsenic and Old Lace, the 1941 comedy classic that features an unlikely combination of elements, including murder, Boris Karloff, the building of the Panama Canal and the theme: the course of true love never runs true. The Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre opens its production of the play tonight.

Although nearly 60 years old, the play has not suffered the fate of many stage comedies by becoming dated and less-than-appealing to a modern audience. While it does reference customs and current events of the early 1940s, Anthony Sonnier, who plays Theodore Brewster in the Fort Gordon production, has found that the Arsenic comedy has remained fairly well preserved.

"I think part of that is because this play really deals with the idiosyncrasies of each individual character and the idiosyncrasies we gather as we grow," he said. "The two main characters don't realize that what they are doing is wrong. It's a quirk."

Director Richard Justice said that he approached the material with a real sense of anticipation, despite the inherent scheduling problems that come with staging a summer production on a fairly grand scale.

"I've decided that this is about the largest show you can do without it being a musical," he said. "It has a big cast and a massive set, and those things were challenges. But there is a real sense of excitement that comes from doing a classic piece of theater like this, a piece where the comedy is really written in. I mean, if you can just deliver this dialogue, this play is going to be funny."

Poking holes at human foibles, Arsenic and Old Lace's satirical nature and intelligent dialogue have kept the cast entertained. Giggles at the initial read-through have matured into guffaws throughout rehearsals. Sally Metzel, who plays the ingenue Elaine Harper, said that the script comes alive in the performance.

"I think the script by itself is funny," she said. "But when you put it onstage it just takes on a whole new level. It's when you see it performed that you really begin to understand the farcical qualities of the show."

Mr. Sonnier said that the cast's ability to remain amused and entertained by the play is a testament to the quality of comedic writing.

"We, as a group, have been working on this since June," he said. "I don't know about everyone else, but I'm getting tired. But you know what, we're all still laughing. And if we're laughing at this two months in, then that's a funny play."

On stage

What: Arsenic and Old Lace, presented by the Fort Gordon Dinner Theatre

When: 8 tonight and Saturday night, Aug. 18-19 and 24-26. Dinner starts at 7.

Where: Building 32100 on Third Avenue, Fort Gordon

Admission: $23, dinner included. Call 793-8552.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or suhles@hotmail.com.