Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Mount Vernon High School Arsenic and Old Lace

By • Nov 23rd, 2008 • Category: Cappies

The cast at Mount Vernon High School invited the audience to visit with the Brewster family and enjoy a glass of their “special” elderberry wine in their recent witty presentation of the macabre comedy, Arsenic and Old Lace.

Written by Joseph Kesselring in 1939, Arsenic and Old Lace, a story of good intentions gone awry, is set in Brooklyn, New York in the 1940s. All of the action takes place in the Brewster home, where both the people and the place hold dark secrets. The story unfolds as the sensible, sane Mortimer Brewster stops in to check on his relatives. During his visit, Mortimer discovers a dead body in the window seat, a brother who thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt digging the Panama Canal in the basement, another brother whose face has been altered by an intoxicated plastic surgeon that accompanies him, and more dead bodies in the basement. Also at the home are two dear aunts “charitably” euthanizing their lodgers with poison-laced wine, believing that they “help lonely old men find peace.”

Leading the accomplished actors were Qudsiyya Hewlett (Abby Brewster) and Taylor Wise (Martha Brewster) as Mortimer’s aunts. Hewlett and Wise fittingly captured the sister’s sweet “old lace” facade as well as their dark, “arsenic” side with apt physicality and detailed characterizations. Their depiction of the sisters’ matronly stances, clasped hands, and playful banter were especially noteworthy. While each actress was independently successful, they were more plausible paired.

Malcolm Montgomery as Mortimer Brewster was believably befuddled upon learning his aunts’ chilling secret. His well-paced lines and appropriate emotion enhanced his performance. Katelyn Arthur, as Mortimer’s vivacious fiancée, Elaine Harper, played her role with panache. Montgomery and Arthur showed a well-developed understanding of the importance of their characters’ relationship through their sincere eye contact and tender touches.

Supporting the leads were other skilled performers, including Andrew McKellips as Teddy Brewster, Mortimer’s canal-digging, presidentially-deluded brother. McKellips was wholly committed to his character and was hilarious as he charged up the family’s staircase with gusto as if it were San Juan Hill. Kevin McNelis delivered an appropriately dark portrayal of the vengeful brother, Jonathan, by using aggressive actions and menacing speech. Eddie Maldonado added comedy through his funny antics and cracking accent in his portrayal of the evil Dr. Einstein, “a surgeon of great distinction and something of a magician.” McNelis and Maldonado made an amusing straight man/funny man team.

Although some details, such as the stripes on the walls, were distracting, the comfortable set added authenticity to the production. The semi-circular design of the set allowed the audience to be nearly surrounded by the action, enhancing audience engagement. The lighting was excellent, particularly the special effect of the glowing candles.

Mortimer Brewster said it all when he declared “Insanity runs in my family, it practically gallops!” The theatrical troupe at Mount Vernon High School delivered an entertaining show as they cleverly characterized the insane yet endearing Brewster family in their fun production of Arsenic and Old Lace.

by Meghan Palmer of Bishop Ireton High School

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