On Broadway Avenue in Urbana, The Station Theatre puts on their own productions — most recently, the play Dream Hou$e, but this weekend and next, Champaign-Urbana Theatre Company will present Arsenic and Old Lace on The Station’s stage. The script for Arsenic and Old Lace was written in 1939 and made into a movie in 1944 starring Cary Grant.
Directed by Tania Arazi Coambs, CUTC’s production of Arsenic and Old Lace was an absurd comedy with three acts of dark family secrets and homicidal tendencies. In a living room in the year 1941, the play opens with an old lady, her nephew, and a reverend talking negatively about the main character Mortimer Brewster, a theatre critic who hates the theatre.
CUTC’s Arsenic and Old Lace set was well done, and the props were simple but effective. There were endless opportunities for comedic entrances and exits with a front door, two interior doors, a working window, and a staircase leading to the rest of the house. With a cast of 14, there was a lot of entering and exiting, and the actors really poured their hearts into the production.
One character, the nephew from the beginning of the play, was Mortimer’s brother Teddy Brewster, who believed he was President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt. The actor Bryce Bennyhoff did a really good Roosevelt impression and an entertaining job being ignorant of the grim circumstances, eagerly becoming an accomplice as characters exploited his mental state.
The actresses in the roles of the two aunts did a great job playing characters who were totally unhinged and quite likable at the same time. Some of the old-fashioned jokes were still funny, like whether electricity was a good idea or not, and this line: “I’ve almost come to the conclusion that this Mr. Hitler isn’t a Christian.”
At times, it was tense as characters got closer to discovering secrets. To me, the funniest part was when murderous characters casually admitted to being murderers. The blasé way some characters brushed off their “very bad habit” of murdering people was the epitome of dark comedy.
At the end of Act I, more crime was added to the evidence-ridden home when a German doctor and Mortimer’s other brother Jonathan, played by “Goonie” Jace Jamison, arrived at the Brooklyn home. I really enjoyed Jamison’s steely demeanor in contrast to the louder, silly characters. The villainous character had stitches on his face thanks to surgery by his alcoholic doctor companion, which inspired dated insults from other characters, likening him to Boris Karloff, the actor who played Frankenstein’s monster in the 1931 horror film Frankenstein.
After the first intermission — yes, there were two intermissions — the comedy resumed in the same living room, following the two sweet aunts and their three interesting nephews: the theatre critic, the one pretending to be Teddy Roosevelt, and the nefarious on.
Overall, the play was farcical and light-hearted, but it was really long, maybe too long, at almost three hours. At times, the pacing could have been faster, but with three acts, it truly is just a long play. Moreover, all the tongue-in-cheek jokes about theatre critics were not lost on me, sitting in the audience scribbling notes for this review.
One of the best parts about this play is that it featured Champaign-Urbana community members. These actors are people in our C-U community: an election judge, a business professor, a programmer at Volition, a radio announcer, and more — and they spent time rehearsing this play for Urbana audiences. It’s always good to support live theatre and our local arts scene.
CUTC’s production of Arsenic and Old Lace runs this weekend and next weekend. Buy tickets online here.
CUTC’s Arsenic and Old Lace
The Station Theatre
Th-Sa March 2-11, 7 p.m.
Su March 5th +12th, 2 p.m.
Tickets available online, $15