Clas­sic com­edy set for Oak Street Play­house

Chattanooga Times Free Press - ChattanoogaNow - - ARTS - STAFF RE­PORT

There’s never enough time, is there?

What with in­ter­view­ing renters for their ex­tra rooms, maiden sis­ters Abby and Martha just haven’t had the op­por­tu­nity to take care of ev­ery­thing they need to do.

Like mov­ing dead bod­ies, for in­stance.

Their nephew, Mor­timer Brew­ster, learns that the hard way in the 1939 Joseph Kes­sel­ring com­edy “Ar­senic and Old Lace,” which opens Fri­day, Sept. 21, at Oak Street Play­house and runs for seven per­for­mances in the venue at First-Cen­te­nary United Methodist Church.

It’s World War II, af­ter all, and times are tight. Peo­ple have to do what they can to get by. And peo­ple are only too happy to help out their fel­low man — some­times in un­con­ven­tional ways.

That’s the scene Mor­timer en­coun­ters when the long­time bach­e­lor comes to pay a visit. Of course, it’s the right thing to do since his aunts live next door to his new fi­anceé’s fa­ther.

“It’s a clas­sic com­edy with phys­i­cal com­edy and ver­bal spar­ring,” di­rec­tor Evie Du­rant says. “Those are never go­ing to go out of style.”

In­deed, it is the first show Oak Street Play­house is stag­ing for the third time in its nearly 40-year his­tory. It was an au­di­ence se­lec­tion in a poll taken in 2017.

Du­rant says she didn’t try to al­ter what’s funny about the show but ad­mits “ev­ery di­rec­tor brings a piece of them­selves” to a pro­duc­tion.

For her, she tends “to draw from all those clas­sic come­dies I grew up with — old movies I watched with my grand­fa­ther and my fa­ther.”

Such in­flu­ences in­clude the 1939 film “Bring­ing Up Baby,” star­ring Cary Grant (who also starred in the film ver­sion of “Ar­senic and Old Lace”); The Three Stooges; Ab­bott and Costello; Mel Brooks — throw­backs to other eras, she says.

“I try to use as many pieces of comedic his­tory as pos­si­ble.”

A 14-char­ac­ter, 13-ac­tor en­sem- ble pro­duc­tion must be tightly cast and mesh like clock­work to ap­pear seam­less, and that’s what Du­rant says she is for­tu­nate to have.

“The cast works re­ally well to­gether,” she says. “They play off each other’s re­ac­tions in a va­ri­ety of ways — some sub­tle and some re­ally bla­tant. Every­one is hi­lar­i­ous in their own way. They make me laugh.”

Mor­timer and the aunts, es­pe­cially, “have got­ten re­ally good at their nu­anced re­la­tion­ship as they cir­cle around each other,” she says. “It’s fun to watch.”

What’s go­ing on in the Brew­ster house­hold may be deadly, but death never seemed quite so funny.

“We’re far re­moved from where we are to­day,” Du­rant says. “Ev­ery­thing is height­ened. There’s a sus­pen­sion of be­lief that [ is] not close to our own re­al­ity. That’s what makes the story hold up.”

For more in­for­ma­tion: 800838-3006, op­tion 1.

PHOTO BY RANDY FORESTER

Sis­ters Martha, left, and Abby Brew­ster, right, por­trayed by Becki Jor­dan and Coylee Bryan, re­spec­tively, pour some el­der­berry wine for Mr. Wither­spoon, por­trayed by Denise Frye, in the clas­sic com­edy “Ar­senic and Old Lace,” which opens Fri­day at Oak Street Play­house.

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