Scene & Heard

Elderberry wine, anyone? – Review: Arsenic & Old Lace fun, well-acted play

Aunts Abby and Martha (played by Nikki Pagniano and Marcee Long) carefully planning charitable acts of kindness. Photos provided/Cottage Theatre

COTTAGE GROVE – The Cottage Theatre’s 38th season opened with gusto Friday night thanks to a relic of a farce, ”Arsenic and Old Lace.” Transported to a simpler time (the 1930s), we watched the Brewster family secrets unravel before our eyes – and it was amusing, to say the least.
There is a wonderful, well-played balance of craziness among the characters.
As Mortimer Brewster states, ”Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops.”
Directed by Keith Kessler, Joseph Kesslering’s 1939 play tells of one night in the Brewsters’ Victorian home. Auntie Brewsters serve up their charitable kindness in the form of poison-laced elderberry wine. Their nephew Teddy (who is convinced he is Theodore Roosevelt) digs the ”Panama Canal” graves in the basement for the victims of ”Yellow Fever.”
When unsuspecting Mortimer discovers what his aunts Abby and Martha are up to, he finds himself caught in a many-sided dilemma. The cherry on top comes when psycho brother Jonathan shows up with his sidekick, Dr. Einstein.
Aunts Abby and Martha (played by Nikki Pagniano and Marcee Long), Teddy (Dale Flynn) and Mortimer (Kory Weiner) make this fast-moving play full of witty lines and a delightful way to spend a couple of winter hours.
Jonathan (Earl Ruttencutter) and Dr. Einstein (Dylan Skye Kennedy) remind us why ”Arsenic and Old Lace” is often performed around Halloween, because Jonathan was truly scary and Dr. Einstein was lovably scary.
Rounding out the cast are Elaine Harper (Ashlee Winkler); officers Brophy (Blake Nelson), Klein (Garrhett Nelson) and O’Hara (Joshua Sayre); Lieutenant Rooney/The Reverend Dr. Harper (Josh Coon); and Dr. Witherspoon (James Scoggins).
The sets and costumes are perfection and the sound and lights just right, thanks to crews led by Tony Rust (Set Design), Rhonda Turnquist (Costume Design/Props) and Phil Dempsey (Lighting Design). It’s this team and a crew of volunteers who make the shows a reality.
”Arsenic and Old Lace” is a popular and time-honored play, performed by a multitude of community, college and high school thespians. When you see it you will understand the age-old attraction.
”Who among us doesn’t need a good dose of humor at this dark and rainy time of year, even if it is rather macabre 1939-style humor?” said Susan Goes, executive director for the Cottage Theatre.
”Arsenic and Old Lace” runs for two more weekends at Cottage Theatre, from Feb. 7-16. Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets are available online at, by phone at 541-942-8001, or in person at Cottage Theatre box office.



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