OKEECHOBEE – Okeechobee Community Theatre’s production of “Arsenic and Old Lace,” is a dark comedy set in Brooklyn, New York.
In case some readers are not already familiar with the plot, this review will attempt to avoid too many spoilers.
The play was written in 1941 by Joseph Kesselring, and enjoyed a successful run on Broadway, before it was turned into a movie starring Cary Grant in 1944. The play and the movie received rave reviews, with the New York Times calling it “good macabre fun!” Eighty years later, the play is still a wonderful dark farce, and the Okeechobee Community Theatre cast appears to have a great time keeping the audience laughing.
Much of the humor in the play revolves around the Brewster family and their history of mental illness. Teddy Brewster, played by Christian Garner, apparently thinks he is President Teddy Roosevelt. He shouts “charge” before he races up the stairs, apparently re-enacting San Juan Hill, and is digging the “Panama Canal” in the basement.
Teddy is doted upon by his aunts Abby and Martha Brewster, played by Laurie Garner and Robyn Garner. In many ways, the Brewster sisters are exactly what they appear to be – kind, genteel spinsters who want to help the less fortunate. Just how they cheerfully help lonely older men who answer their ad for lodgers gives the play a dark turn.
Teddy’s older brother Mortimer Brewster, who visits his beloved aunts on his way to take his girlfriend (who happens to live next door) to the theatre, is played by Zachary Garner. Mortimer is a theatre critic who hates the theatre and has been working on a book. He’s sure that theatre “can’t last.” Zachary gives the part a wonderful enthusiasm as Mortimer tries to hold everything together while his world is unraveling before his eyes.
Jane Robards is delightful as Mortimer’s love interest, Elaine Harper. While Elaine does not have many lines in the play, her facial expressions speak volumes.
Jonathan Brewster – the nephew the Brewster sisters don’t like to talk about – has been gone for many years, but resurfaces to add to the mayhem. Jonathan is played by Michael White, with just the right mix of menace and exasperation. After escaping from a facility for the criminally insane, Jonathan has sought the help of plastic surgeon Dr. Einstein, who in the effort to disguise the wanted man, gave him the face of Frankenstein’s monster. (Boris Karloff originated the role in the Broadway production.)
Joseph Marcinek plays Jonathan’s sidekick, Dr. Einstein, apparently channeling the spirit, accent and physicality of Peter Lorre (who played the part in the movie.) When bullied by Jonathan, he almost appears to melt into the stage in his efforts to back away.
Josh Van Wormer is hilarious as the clueless Officer O’Hara, who admits his work on the police force for the past 12 years is just a temporary job to pay the bills while he works on his play.
Tom Murray plays Reverend Harper, Elaine’s father, who while he is very fond of the Brewsters, is not so sure he wants his daughter involved with Mortimer.
Harry Moldenhauer is Mr. Gibbs, who answers the Brewster sisters’ ad for a lodger.
James Garner plays Officer Brophy, who has known the Brewster sisters for years and is sure they are harmless old ladies.
Brandon Entry plays Officer Klein and Matthew Garner plays Lt. Rooney. They are drawn into the action in the search for the criminals Jonathan Brewster and Dr. Einstein.
Bob Keebler plays Mr. Witherspoon, the director of Happy Dale Sanitarium who comes to evaluate Teddy for commitment. Witherspoon plays the straight man for Teddy’s antics.
The play is directed by James Garner. Stage managers are Martha Bucholtz and Grace Morgan. Paul Kronk is sound manager. Laura Murray is lighting manager. Stage crew are Carly Bartels and Rylie Tucker. Set design was by Steve Burk and Harry Moldenhauer.
If it seems there are a lot of Garners in the cast, there’s a reason so many members of this talented family wanted to be part of the production. The play is in honor of longtime Okeechobee Community Theatre member John Garner, who died in 2021. John was an integral part of OCT for 14 years and appeared in nearly 20 productions. His last show was “See How They Run,” in fall of 2019.
Director James Garner said he and John had planned to do the show together, “then with no warning, he was just gone. We decided to go ahead and do the show and dedicate it in his honor.”
"Arsenic and Old Lace" will be presented in the historic Okeechobee Auditorium located on the Okeechobee Freshman Campus (behind Golden Corral Restaurant). The show opened Friday, March 4. Performances continue on March 11 and 18 at 8 p.m. and March 12 at 2 p.m.
Tickets are available any time at okeechobeecommunitytheatre.com; by visiting the office of Okeechobee Main Street, 111 N.E. Second Street - weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; or at the theatre, one hour before showtime.