Arsenic and Old Lace by Upper Merion Area High School in King of Prussia, PA
May 12, 2020
Review submitted by Katrina Conklin of Baldwin School
“Family— whether you like them or not, you’re stuck with them.” Upper Merion’s production of Arsenic and Old Lace put this age-old adage to the test, portraying the chaotically maniacal Brewster family’s antics in their engaging, comedic performance.
Written by Joseph Kesselring, Arsenic and Old Lace is a three-act play following Mortimer Brewster who wants nothing more than to introduce his fiancé to his family. The problem? The Brewster family is composed of eccentric, even sadistic deviants, including Mortimer’s homicidal aunts, Abby and Martha, who poison the men that visit the lodge they run. The play, set entirely in the Brewster sisters’ home, follows this abnormal cast of family members and outsiders and the chaos and hilarity that ensues when they clash.
Upper Merion’s cast gave a stellar performance, successfully delivering the dark humor while portraying their characters authentically. The portrayal of the Brewster family, along with the ensemble of officers and versatile cast of supporting roles, ensured an engaging, humorous production.
Cast highlights included Ryan Slusky’s depiction of protagonist Mortimer Brewster, which exhibited detailed character choices that brought the play’s hero to life. Additionally, Molly Levine and Ema Isajiw, who played Abby and Martha Mortimer, respectively, did a fantastic job of capturing the sisters’ complex, multi-faceted characters while maintaining excellent comedic timing.
Among the excellent myriad of supporting roles, standouts included Keagan Richard’s portrayal of Jonathan Brewster, a murderous plastic surgery-addict, executing the character’s maniacal nature and maintaining an impressive stage presence throughout the play. Jack Briggs, who played Jonathan’s alcoholic accomplice, Dr. Einstein, stood out as a comedic presence, succeeding in consistent humorous delivery. Another notable role was that of Caitlin Cunnane, who portrayed Mortimer’s fiancé Elaine with clear, authentic delivery.
Additionally, the technical elements of Upper Merion’s performance were superb. The two-story, student-designed set, along with the play’s intricate props, were incredibly detailed and realistic, nearly of professional quality. Upper Merion’s stage crew ensured all these ornate details ran smoothly, further supplementing the production. The lighting and sound, run by Upper Merion’s tech crew and sound crew, respectively, were consistently executed as well.
Overall, Upper Merion’s production of Arsenic and Old Lace displayed tremendous dedication and effort from the cast and crew, resulting in an excellent, effortless production of a chaotically hilarious story.
Review submitted by Julia Boas of Upper Dublin High School
With a tablespoon of humor, a teaspoon of suspense and a pinch of murder, Upper Merion High School’s performance of Arsenic and Old Lace was the perfect recipe!
Arsenic and Old Lace was written by Joseph Kesselring in 1939 and ran on Broadway for three years starting in 1941. Set in Brooklyn, the play is about two seemingly innocent old ladies who have a bad habit of murdering the elderly with arsenic. Through this dark comedy, the Brewster family’s secrets are revealed as the suspenseful plot progresses.
The talented cast was able to tell this complicated story with ease as every actor committed to their character with true dedication. Through their own distinct accent and physicality, each actor had strong characterization, contributing to the success of this unique production.
Leading the cast and playing the peculiar Brewster sisters was Molly Levine (Abby Brewster) and Ema Isajiw (Martha Brewster). With her shrill voice and genuine physicality, Levine portrayed the gentle old lady with a lot of humor and one-line jokes. Completing the duo as her partner in crime, Isajiw truly embodied the spirit of the Martha with her sweet and dazed mannerisms. As their conflicted and confused nephew Mortimer, Ryan Slusky did a great job using his facial expressions to draw laughter from the audience.
Another standout was the lovable and hilarious Teddy Brewster (Jack Briggs). With his charges up the stairs and the blow of his bugle, Briggs provided constant lighthearted humor. Also adding to the humor of the production was Luke Preston as the oddball Dr. Einstein. Keagan Richard did a chilling job as the evil Jonathon. While exposing his family’s secrets and having a few of his own too, his true sinister nature was revealed. Caitlin Cunnane played the spunky and sassy Elaine with an impressive emotional depth as she changed from happiness to confusion quite often.
The technical aspects were just as strong as the performance. The realistic two-story set was complete with furniture and magnificent detail and was able to immerse audiences into the 1940s. Tackling the many sound effects of doorbell dings and phone rings, the UM Sound crew did a great job setting the mood for this story. Lastly, the UM stage crew was able to manage a broad range of props that had authentic detail.
Overall, Upper Merion High School killed with their professional and comedic performance of Arsenic and Old Lace.