Drop-Dead Comedy at Standing Room Only

by Christian Carvajal for OLY ARTS

When writer Joseph Kesselring commenced work on his most famous of a dozen plays, he intended it as serious drama. Its setup may even have been inspired by grisly murders in Connecticut. Now, over 75 years later, the Broadway draft of Arsenic and Old Lace is one of America’s most enduringly popular comedies, wicked yet suitable for theatergoers of almost any age. It’s the story of two adorable, old sisters who encourage lonely gentlemen to find lasting peace — by persuading them to drink elderberry wine dosed with arsenic, strychnine and “just a pinch of cyanide.”

In director Nancy Tribush Hillman’s new production at Standing Room Only in Yelm, this deadly duo is performed capably by Yvette O’Keefe and Dawn Wadsworth. Reluctant drama critic Mortimer, portrayed by Cary Grant in the 1944 film version and here by Jesse Geray, has the frantic task of nixing these homicides soon after he proposes to his girlfriend (Megan Glaefke). Other eccentrics include a relative (Jeremy Chenvert) who believes he’s Teddy Roosevelt, another (Guy Simpson III) whose plastic surgery calls Frankenstein’s monster to mind and a German physician (Miro Bouchakian) who wheezes and grovels like Peter Lorre.

“This is not an easy show to do. It’s very deceptive,” says Hillman. “The hard thing is the timing.” She credits producer and set designer Dawn Emilia with aiding her task by squeezing a believable 1940s-era boarding home into SRO’s shallow stage area. “Everything is important,” Hillman says of the script. “Wow, this is well-written. It’s like there’s not a single line I would want to change.” She adds, “Therefore it must be respected.”

The show’s farcical, three-act structure presents challenges that may not be readily apparent to audiences. Comedy requires actors to think along two parallel tracks simultaneously. “One,” explains Hillman, “it has to real, even though it’s funny. And two, it has to be funny, even though it’s real.”

What: Arsenic and Old Lace

Where: Standing Room Only,
Triad Theater,
102 E. Yelm Ave., Yelm

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday – Saturday,
3 p.m. Sunday, March 2-25

How much: $10-$20

Learn more: 857-67-STAGE | SRO

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