By Charles J. Morgan
When a theatrical company does a chestnut, it is because it has not only stood the test of time but has pleased audiences through the years.
The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts has trotted out one of those chestnuts, Joseph Kesselring’s “Arsenic and Old Lace,” that darkly humorous comedy about two charmingly wicked aging sisters who go about murdering lonely men by poisoning them with a glass of home-made elderberry wine laced with arsenic, strychnine and “just a pinch” of cyanide as if they were dusting furniture in their antique home in Brooklyn, reminiscent of the old houses on Westminster, Rugby and Argyle roads in your scribe’s native Flatbush.
Mary Ellin Kurtz and Staci Rosenberg-Simons portray the malevolent Brewster sisters, Abby and Martha, respectively. Their overly sweet demeanor toward one another comes off perfectly; their Victorian good manners are the perfect cover for their evil deeds. Their innocence is not even feigned … it is sincere!
Then there is their brother, Teddy, a harmless lunatic who thinks he is President Theodore Roosevelt. Bobby Montaniz has this role and plays it to the hilt. With a bristling moustache and pince-nez glasses, he actually looked like TR. His “Charge!!!” up the stairs, bugle in hand, forces the sisters to explain, “The stairs? . . . San Juan Hill.” In his “signing clothes,” a cutaway frock coat and striped pants, he signs the “Treaty,” which is his own commitment papers to an insane asylum. His TR lines all have to do with real, historical TR incidents. Your scribe’s favorite was when he places his hand on the shoulder of the visiting preacher from the local church intoning “I’ve always enjoyed my talks with Cardinal Gibbons!” Montaniz was the comic foil of this show.
Steve Corbellini plays the sisters’ nephew, Mortimer. He is supreme as the one who discovers what the sisters have done. He is torn between simply turning them in to the police and his nepotic love for them. Corbellini has a remarkable stage presence and a comic ability that is first class.
Lauren Gobes has the role of Elaine, Mortimer’s fiancée. She is pretty, ingénue-like and possessed of impressive range … from beloved to spurned and back again.
On to the scene comes Mortimer’s brother Jonathan, handled expertly by Michael Newman . . . the “bad” Brewster. His voice is threatening and thunderous, and his reciting of his lines in a sort of monotone brings out a deep-seated evil. His shady confederate is Dr. Einstein, the hard drinking, failed surgeon. Eugene Dailey has the role and interprets it masterfully. Rounding out the cast are Mark DeCaterina, Michael Bertolini, John Steele and Kevin Shaw, all of which do a fine job.
Now chestnuts need good sets, and Timothy Golebiewski as set designer ran a team of constructors including Brian Barteld, Clarke Serv and Russ Brown in mounting a massive, highly impressive interior complete with wainscoting, window seat and, especially noteworthy, a staircase with a double landing leading to “upstairs” rooms. The furniture looked like it had been bought during the presidency of Grover Cleveland.
On to this set steps director Jordan Hue who, confronted with this broad physical venue, had the job of interpreting and blocking the cast, carrying out the director’s job of making the characters as real as possible, and coupling that with the actors own talents and engendering a seamless performance. In this Hue succeeded eminently.
This is a chestnut pulled from the roast for the audience’s delectation. The SCPA has done its usual fine work on a production well worth seeing.
The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. Main St., Smithtown, will present the classic comedy “Arsenic & Old Lace” through Oct. 4. Tickets are $35 adults, $20 students. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.