It just so happens that two likable Brooklyn spinsters are responsible for the permanent disappearances of 13 elderly gentlemen. No, no don’t panic! It’s just the basic premise for one of the most beloved dark farces of the last century. Although set in the 1940s and politically incorrect at times, Heights Players’ production of “Arsenic and Old Lace” is still a fun evening.
Director Kristen Keim avoids overly broad and embarrassing slapstick. The result is a true ensemble production with consistent acting and plenty of laughs. There are no uncomfortable gaps when the acting could have been sub-par. The costumes (Andrea Bernardo, Malary Lynn Nicoletti) and make up (Sam Greene) are outstanding. The sets (Gary Vanderputten, Paul Keim) are also very well done. As usual, the audience is just steps away from the actors. This generously provides a level of intimacy that clearly enhances the production.
Now, back to the story! With misplaced compassion for elderly bachelors, the Brewster sisters (Sue-Ellen Mandell, Valerie O’Hara) offer arsenic-laced elderberry wine to their unsuspecting boarders. The victims are buried downstairs by dear nephew Teddy (Steven Lerner) who is sure he is Teddy Roosevelt merely building the Panama Canal. Well, the storyline becomes more and more hilarious.
I can sympathize with their nephew Mortimer (Adam Berard). He’s a good natured theatre critic who is flabbergasted when he discovers his aunts’ sinister secrets. His significant other Elaine (Tara Reuter) is alarmed by Mortimer’s mercurial behavior from scene to scene.
Wait, the list of eccentrics continues to grow. Nephew Jonathan (Mike Marcou) is a hardened criminal who coincidentally returns. He has had three operations to alter his appearance. This just increases the misunderstandings for the hapless Brewster family. My personal favorite is Jonathan’s partner in crime, Dr. Einstein. No, not that Einstein! Played by David Mackler, he is a plastic surgeon who enjoys his “flask” now and then. He disapproves of the gangster’s behavior but is too tipsy to challenge him successfully.
Oh, there are assorted police officers, bureaucrats and reverends (Jonathan Phipps, Tyler Beau Humphries, Marc A. Hermann, David Moseder and Sam Greene). Kudos to Stage Manager Casey Buttari, Lighting Designer Leo J. Contrino and everyone behind the scenes too numerous to name.
For information on this and future productions call 718-237-2752 or surf to www.heightsplayers.org.
As always, save me a seat on the aisle.