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Escape to early-20th-century Brooklyn at SAT

Sandy Actors Theatre stages Arsenic and Old Lace for three more weeks


by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: ROD STROH - In a scene from Arsenic and Old Lace, Aunt Abby, left, portrayed by Valerie Brooks, and Aunt Martha, staged by Berta Limbaugh, discuss the next person (usually a man of the cloth) who will receive a glass of elderberry wine (spiked with the usual poison). The stage production continues at Sandy Actors Theater until Oct. 6.Even though it has been around for more than 70 years, “Arsenic and Old Lace” is a story that never gets old.

That story was transparent when it came to center stage at Sandy Actors Theatre last weekend.

There’s nothing subtle about the Joseph Kesselring classic; it’s a farce and considered black comedy.

On the plus side, Joni Tabler’s skillful direction keeps the story moving through its many changes in direction and surprising revelations.

While the story centers on the antics of two aunts who live together, it is Nathan Wright as Mortimer who catches the collective eye of the audience.

Wright is always in character, speaks clearly with sufficient volume, and everyone in the audience knows how he feels about each situation.

What more can be said in appreciation for an acting performance? Critically speaking, he occasionally over-reacts to some situations — but it isn’t distracting.

We don’t know anyone else who could have portrayed Dr. Einstein as well as Tim Park. From the moment he sticks his head through the doorway of the Brewster home, Park is fully in his character.

Even though he might be considered the villain because of his lawless activities, Brick Andrews’ portrayal of Jonathan Brewster is stellar. And the tone of his voice lends a great deal of credibility to his performance.

Even though Andrews and Wright are making their first appearances on the SAT stage, Tabler’s casting of them and Park in their respective roles is of key importance to the eventual success of this SAT production.

Another highlight of the opening-weekend performance is Lissie Huff, who plays naive Elaine, Wright’s love interest and eventual fiancee.

Although Chandano Fuller, while bringing the Rev. Harper to the stage, began the first act by talking without enough volume, briefly facing away from the audience, he redeemed himself with the rest of his performance — making it clear that he is familiar with the limelight.

We also were impressed with Vernon Souders’ portrayal of Lieutenant Rooney. He definitely fulfilled our expectation of a police boss.

Another reason for making plans to see this play is the performance of SAT regular Jim Lamproe, who brings to the script a purposely demented imitation of Teddy (Roosevelt) Brewster, which was what Kesselring envisioned in the story.

In fact, the story almost revolves around Lamproe’s zany actions with a bugle, sword and shovel.

The two aunts, however, are the real central figures. Martha, played by longtime SAT regular Berta Limbaugh, and Abby, played by experienced actress Valerie Brooks, find their charitable work in relieving the stresses of lonely old men by giving them elderberry wine, spiced with arsenic, strychnine and “just a pinch” of cyanide.

We’re not certain if the number 13 made a difference at SAT’s opening night, but the 13-member cast, performing on Friday the 13th in 2013, walked into a few stumbling blocks during the performance.

The aunts had a number of missed or forgotten lines, sometimes brought back on track by another cast member. In their defense, the aunts were likely the cast members with the largest number of lines and most number of minutes on stage.

But any non-critic can overlook those brief missteps. They were, at most, a hesitation while the actress remembered the next word in the sentence.

But because of the vast experience of each of these two women, we are certain they will get over opening-night jitters, when self-doubt sometimes suggests there haven’t been enough rehearsals.

This well-cast play also is giving some actors with less experience a chance to feel what it’s like to stand at stage right and deliver a line with feeling while everyone watches and listens.

Among those gaining or in need of experience are Trevor Latal as Officer Brophy, Blake Smith as Officer Klein and Steven Winkler as Mr. Witherspoon.

The role of Officer O’Hara, staged by Thomas Wikle, an actor with comedic and Shakespeare experience, was a bit disappointing on opening night, as Wikle’s character was a bit stiff and did not remind us of a police officer.

But looking at the big picture, the SAT acting company is offering another evening or afternoon of splendid entertainment.

On the edge of melodrama, this comedic farce will challenge theatergoers to figure out the next twist or turn in the plot while listening to comments worthy of a belly laugh.

“Arsenic and Old Lace” was a good choice for Sandy’s professional theater, and a good choice for area residents’ night out.

This black-comedy production continues three more weekends, with the last performance Sunday, Oct. 6. “Arsenic and Old Lace” is staged at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call 503-668-6834 or visit the website at sandyactorstheatre.org.