Arsenic and Old Lace – James M. Barrack Hebrew Academy

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Arsenic and Old Lace by James M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, PA

January 30, 2018

Review submitted by Emma Danz of Harriton High School

So, you take one teaspoon full of arsenic, then add a half teaspoon full of strychnine, and then just a pinch of cyanide. Or, is it a mixture of hysterical farcical comedy, Noah Glickman’s wonderful direction, and the hard work of Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy? Regardless, the result is a fantastically witty production of Arsenic and Old Lace.

Arsenic and Old Lace is an American play written in 1939 by Joseph Kesselring. It is black comedy centering around the insanely conniving, surprisingly murderous Brewster family. Kesselring’s most acclaimed work, the show has seen multiple revivals, stage performances, and even a successful film adaptation.

The show centers around old spinster sisters, Martha Brewster (Gabriella Maze) and Abby Brewster (Madelyn Simon). Maze and Simon grounded the show from the beginning. Working commendably as sardonic, endearing old women with an affinity for homicide, the two were compatible scene partners. Matching and challenging each other in energy and presence, they shone as a pair and as individuals.

Noah Feinberg, as their woefully bewildered nephew Mortimer, was a force to be reckoned with as he commanded the stage from beginning to end. Incorporating well-placed moments of physical comedy with thoughtful timing and delivery, he was an essential addition to the show, guiding the audience from one crazy character to another.

Another essential element of the production was the incredible comic relief provided wonderfully by Charles Gottlieb as Teddy Brewster and Ruth Davis as Dr. Einstein. Gottlieb was a clear audience favorite, winning hearts as the lovably misguided brother who believes himself to be Teddy Roosevelt. His impressive commitment to the role was obvious through inventive movement decisions.

As with any show, it is not possible without the technical elements that, in tandem with the onstage performance, build the reality of the piece. Under the direction of Noah Glickman, Barrack did just that. Both the setting and the costumes were carefully curated to satisfy the demands of the show while also enriching the scene work. Under the direction of Sophia Shapiro, most cues were executed seamlessly.

Although no one will be accepting a glass of Elderberry wine from them any time soon, Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy was able to deliver a delightfully ridiculous farce with ease.

 

Review submitted by Nina Gold of Harriton High School

A full teaspoon of humor, half a teaspoon of intrigue, and a pinch of zaniness is the perfect recipe not for elderberry wine, but for a darkly comedic play that keeps the audience hooked from beginning to end. Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy’s production of Arsenic and Old Lace was entertaining, suspenseful, and a bundle of laughs.

Set in Brooklyn, New York, the play revolves around two old ladies with a peculiar habit of murdering elderly bachelors. The plot becomes tricky when their nephew, Mortimer, discovers their secret just before his murderous brother arrives, searching for a place to dispose of his latest victim. Along with an eccentric cast of characters including a Teddy Roosevelt-impersonating maniac, a tipsy plastic surgeon, and a band of bumbling cops, Mortimer desperately tries to get rid of his brother while concealing his aunts’ dark secret.

Madelyn Simon and Gabriella Maze as Abby and Martha Brewster, respectively, brought a noticeable energy to the entire play. Maze in particular embodied the spirit of a gentle old lady, and the chemistry between the two was remarkable. Noah Feinberg’s portrayal of the frantic Mortimer was admirable, and his facial expressions and physicality drew laughter from the audience throughout.

The show would not have been complete without strong supporting characters, particularly Charles Gottlieb as Teddy Brewster and Ruth Davis as Dr. Einstein. Gottlieb’s timing, boisterous manner, and outright ridiculousness captured the attention of the audience whenever he was onstage, and although at times was almost over-the-top, never failed to drive the energy higher. Davis as the drunken doctor stood out immediately due to her impressive German accent, and her portrayal of the cowardly, conniving sidekick was hilarious from start to finish.

The cast as a whole did commendable job of telling the story. Despite the fact that some diction was unclear and difficult to understand due to the speed at which the actors were speaking, the show was cohesive and enjoyable. The sound cues were perfectly timed, and although some of the set changes were slightly lengthy, they did not detract from the overall pacing of the play, and both actors and crew dealt with minor issues professionally and without pause.

Arsenic and Old Lace is a story full of deception, desperation, and outright comedy, and Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy’s production lacked none of these. From the opening scene to the final line, the hilarity and suspense kept the audience breathless and waiting for more.

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