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Murder and Mayhem

Ely audiences treat to a real gem in short run of classic Arsenic and Old Lace

Keith Vandervort
Posted 10/5/17

ELY – The co-director of Arsenic and Old Lace told his Ely audience Sunday afternoon what he learned in college a long time ago: “Theater is the suspension of disbelief.” George Spaulding was …

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Murder and Mayhem

Ely audiences treat to a real gem in short run of classic Arsenic and Old Lace

Posted

ELY – The co-director of Arsenic and Old Lace told his Ely audience Sunday afternoon what he learned in college a long time ago: “Theater is the suspension of disbelief.” George Spaulding was quoting George Bernard Shaw as he introduced the radio-show-styled and staged reading of Arsenic and Old Lace.

With just a half dozen rehearsals, George and Mary Kay Fortier Spalding joined a cast of a dozen highly-talented and highly-energetic Ely-area actors to present more than two hours of the suspension of disbelief. Sprinkled with mayhem and murder, the theatrical gem was full of uproarious laughter and sheer entertainment.

Practice and preparation may have been cut short, but the two-show production, sponsored by the Northern Lakes Arts Association and Happy for That Theater Company, was long on entertainment.

Spalding asked the audience to look past the sparse set and imagine looking in on the goings on of a strange family in a Victorian mansion during World War II. Like radio-theater, the sound effects guy (Spalding himself) was clearly visible on the stage. The entire cast was visible at all times, seated in chairs right on stage. Rehearsals were replaced by the actors holding their scripts and reading along, waiting for their lines.

It didn’t take long for the audience to suspend those distractions and to get caught up in the plot. The plot was as outrageous and unbelievable as a train wreck. One just couldn’t look away. This could not possibly end well for the two sweet old ladies.

Set in New York City in 1941, Arsenic and Old Lace tells the story of Mortimer Brewster, a young, successful Broadway theatre critic who lives in Brooklyn with his two maiden aunts, Abby and Martha, and his harmless, but deluded brother, Teddy, who believes he is Theodore Roosevelt.

The plot turns quickly when Mortimer discovers, much to his shock and dismay, that murder seems to be the family business. A revelation he can’t possibly share with his new fiancé, Elaine, the girl next door.

As the bodies begin to stack up, Mortimer’s evil brother, Jonathon, returns to use his old home as a hideout with his friend, and plastic surgeon, Dr. Einstein. Even the police become unwitting accomplices in this rollicking comedy by Joseph Kesselring filled with mirthful murder and mayhem.

The 1944 film version of Arsenic and Old Lace, starring Cary Grant, has been recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 50 funniest scripts of all time.

The cast of Arsenic and Old Lace included Dave O’Donnell, George Spalding, Karin Schmidt, Sara Skelton, Peter Kess, Andrea Strom, Mary Kay Fortier Spalding, Lis McCrea, Vince O’Connor, Marcia Homer, Mary Ann Pauling, Jim Beaty, Cindy Dieter and Gil Knight.

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