Matinee at the Playhouse: Arsenic and Old Lace by Joseph Kesselring

Matinee at the Playhouse: Arsenic and Old Lace by Joseph Kesselring

arsenic and old lace

I occasionally read a classic novel, but not plays so often. Besides, plays are so much better seen at the theater than read or even watched on tv.

Yesterday, my mom, David, Amber and I saw Arsenic and Old Lace at the Brooke Hills Playhouse, the local community theater. It was funny, in a dark kind of way and the actors did a good job, as they always do.

The play revolves around Mortimer Brewster, a drama critic who must deal with his crazy, homicidal family and local police in Brooklyn, NY, as he debates whether to go through with his recent promise to marry the woman he loves. His family includes two spinster aunts who murder lonely old men, lonely because they don’t have any family to miss them, by poisoning them with a glass of home-made elderberry wine laced with arsenic, strychnine, and “just a pinch” of cyanide; a brother who believes he is Theodore Roosevelt and digs locks for the Panama Canal in the cellar of the Brewster home (which then serve as graves for the aunts’ victims); and a murderous brother, Jonathan Brewster,  who has received plastic surgery performed by an alcoholic accomplice, Dr. Einstein to conceal his identity and now looks like Boris Karloff.

Joseph Kesselring wrote Arsenic and Old Lace in 1939 and play and opened on January 10, 1941 with Boris Karloff playing Jonathan, so that little joke would have been perfect. It was also adapted as a film starring Cary Grant and directed by Frank Capra. If you haven’t seen it and get a chance you definitely should.

Going to see a play or two is always on our list for the summer. And I’m determined to make it to the drive-in this year. What else should I put on my list? Do you have anything fun planned for the summer?


  1. This is one of my favorite plays, partly because I was in it in high school. We didn’t have enough guys in our drama class so they changed the role of Dr. Einstein to female and I was cast in the role. I even had to speak with a German accent. It was such fun.

    It really is a great play. Sounds like your community theater puts on a great show.

    I love going to plays, but I really only go around Christmas. I never have the money when something I really want to see comes around.

  2. I LOVE this play. The movie version with Cary Grant is just excellent. My kids even enjoyed it when I had them watch it. Yes, it is dark but there is enough comedy to ease the tension and make it family-friendly. I’m glad your local theater did a good job with it, so you could appreciate the nuances of it!

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