Feb 1, 2019
by Alexa Chipman
What dark secrets could two polite Edwardian ladies with teacakes possibly have? Surrounded by dainty lace tablecloths and floral arrangements, the Brewster sisters have quietly been stacking up murder victims in their cellar for years. Their nephew, Mortimer, discovers a body in the window seat, which sends him into hysterics, sparking an eccentric comedy that has entranced audiences since 1941. Revived for Sonoma Arts Live’s season of“A Toast to the Classics,” this vintage romp holds up remarkably well, other than an unfortunate flavoring of racially insensitive comments.
This remarkable cast embodies their quirky characters with fierce intensity, such as Tim Setzer’s Teddy, who believes himself to be President Roosevelt. He charges up the staircase like San Juan Hill, and firmly insists that the cellar is actually Panama.
The less charming sibling, Jonathan, prowls through scenes with brooding malice, portrayed by Mike Schaeffer with suitably disturbing monster makeup by Erik Weiss. Jonathan’s partner in crime, the obsequious Dr. Einstein, is fascinating to watch. Rose Roberts gives a brilliant performance in the role, her expressive eyes darting about.
The heart of ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ is the Brewster sisters and their sweet-natured hospitality. Abby (Karen Brocker) and Martha (Karen Pinomaki) cannot understand why their charity of poisoning lonely men is out of the ordinary, and their innocent sincerity is what makes the characters so likeable, despite being serial killers. Director Michael Ross has created such a believable group of outlandish characters that level-headed Mortimer seems odd in comparison.
In the midst of unwanted revelations, Mortimer and his fiancé Elaine (Julianne Bradbury) are struggling to be honest with each other. Bradbury’s passionate, direct approach to the character gives Elaine a contemporary confidence and poise.
Michael Walraven’s scenic design and Janis Snyder’s costumes maintain an elegant black and white palette, with occasional touches of burgundy. Gothic sensibilities add unnerving undertones to the Brewster residence, along with well-placed sound design by Jess Johnson during emotionally charged moments.
‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ is a suspenseful comedy with delightful absurdity and a superb ensemble. It deserves a congratulatory toast of poison-free elderberry wine.
Arsenic and Old Lace
Presented by Sonoma Arts Live through February 10, 2019
Thur/Fri/Sat at 7:30pm, Sun at 2:00pm
Photos by Miller Oberlin Photography
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