Classic comedy set for Oak Street Playhouse
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.
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.