ARSENIC AND OLD LACE – A DELIGHTFUL COMEDY OF TERRORS AT OUR OWN LAKE CHARLES, LA ACTS THEATRE

 

 

 

 

The Addams Family was an endearing bunch of creepy oddballs. Appearing like zombies, witches and vampires they were actually a loving Mom, Dad, kids and extended family of rich and philanthropic homeschoolers.

The family of Queen Eleanor and King Henry II, in the classic Lion in Winter were not so companionable, and battled continuously with each other throughout the play. Different members bond with, then betray, each other, jockeying for power, land, revenge, attention, or love. At the end of a particularly vicious argument with her husband, Eleanor, left sitting on the floor in the doorway, gathers herself together and to self-console muses: "Well, what family doesn’t have its ups and downs?"

The Guardians of the Galaxy is a band of violent and ethically questionable outlaws and vigilantes who come together as a family unit in part to (re)raise Groot, who is a sentient tree. (See my review on that one here .)

NONE of them have anything on the Brewsters.

The premise of Arsenic and Old Lace is that Mortimer, a once cynical-of-romance theater critic, now totally smitten and freshly engaged to Elaine, the girl next door, goes to his sweet, loving, maiden aunts’ home for a visit and to break the good news.

In residence is his adorable Uncle Teddy, who thinks he is President Theodore Roosevelt, periodically charging up the stairs he knows as San Juan Hill and digging grave sized locks in the basement, which he thinks is the Panama Canal. Hovering in the background is the ominous, but so far absent, other brother, Jonathan. And so the stage is literally set for this very black and very funny slapstick comedy about a family which would put the Guardians on alert, make the Addams Family startle, and have both Henry and Eleanor running for cover. Bodies pile up and are switched like the plates of tuna in Noises Off or the suitcases from What’s Up Doc, identities are hidden and a good time is ultimately had by all…except for the corpses…in Arsenic and Old Lace.

I hesitate to say more for the benefit of those readers who have not seen either the play or the brilliant 1944 movie directed by Frank Capra and starring Cary Grant. If you don’t know the story it is just too delightful to spoil. If you do know some of the details then it will be like going back for seconds of your favorite ice cream.

Clay Hebert, the director and Officer Klein, is a familiar and welcome face from every stage Lake Charles offers. He has a resume which spans from McNeese's Theater to ACTS, and from Lake Charles Little Theatre to the Bayou Players and independent film productions all over Lake Charles. Clay artfully guides this fairly large cast through the quick draw and fast paced humor of Arsenic, which is to comedy what very dark and deliciously bitter semi-sweet morsels are to chocolate chip cookies, skillfully leading his troupe over that tightrope between horror and humor.

Louis Barrilleaux, another talented veteran of ACTS, LCLT and McNeese for over 20 years, is Mortimer, the eye around which this storm circulates.

Kelly Rowland and Sarah Broussard, respectively as Martha and Abbey Brewster, age themselves convincingly 50 years to play Mortimer’s adorably naive and unassuming aunts whose home is the site for some rather….unexpected events. Both ladies have degrees in performance, Kelly in music and Sarah in theater, with a wide and diverse range of acting credits.

Rebecca Harris, an actress with an impressive resume, is Mortimer’s confused but stalwart fiancee.

Aaron Webster, a self-described reluctant actor, is eminently creepy as Jonathan, the ne'er-do-well prodigal brother.

Brahnsen Lopez, another stage veteran, plays Jonathan’s would-be repentant colleague, Dr. Einstein (not Albert).

Matt Dye, local radio personality and frequently cast in small but scene stealing roles, does it again as Teddy.

Mark Hebert, Dusty Duffy, Dylan Conley and Kathy Heath round out the cast with memorable supporting characters.

 

The set is terrific, creating the authentically homey, gentle parlor of two elderly aunts, making the sinister events all the funnier for the contrast, complete with two sets of stairs and a landing up and through which Teddy has the freedom to charge with abandon, a window seat which can house…various and sundry… and French doors through which the characters are free to pop in and out.

I was privileged to interview Diki Jines, master electrician on the set and will have his interview clips up shortly below, talking about the set, its design and a little background.

Timing and blocking are very key, especially in this comedy of terrors and Clay has the tempo and coordinated actions and responses wound like a Swiss Cuckoo clockwork.

It’s a joy to watch a stage full of such talented veterans work smoothly together, and the fact most are old friends and/or fellow thespians, who have trod the boards often together, helps catalyze the chemistry that makes this play full of intimately connected characters work. These performers know each others’ rhythms and make the most of their considerable pool of experience to bring us a delightful evening of fun and fright, chills and chuckles, comedy and carnage, shocks and snickers, jocularity and jump scares.

So go warm up — or chill out — in anticipation of Halloween at ARSENIC AND OLD LACE. But be sure to BYOW. (Bring your own wine.)

BUY TICKETS HERE, OR CALL (337) 433-2287

Ree/eal Life – TWO OF FOUR REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH MOVIES

In the previous posts I explained my love of movies. Today, I'll begin to explain the why and source of that affiliation.

REASON NUMBER ONE OF FOUR

To me there are at least four reasons to watch a movie. For one thing, it is the only proven use of telepathy that I know of. What you see on the screen is the public visualization of someone else's dream. OK. To be more accurate the vision is more of a group effort – costume designer, cinematographer, location scout, casting director, and dozens or hundreds of other "chefs" add their ingredient to the stew. But USUALLY the final party plan is the director's; his or hers the vision that you get to see. For the most part, the "final cut" is the director's, he the one who makes what you see on screen most like what he has envisioned. Now granted that can be a good or bad thing, depending on whether the director is Ed Wood or Frank Capra. Then the choice is yours as to whether or not you want a peek into that person's mind. But it is a kind of telepathy – a (literally) "feeling from afar" as the term "telepathy" was originally coined by English psychologist Frederick Myers in 1882, even though that feeling is "limited" to visual, auditory and emotional.

REASON NUMBER TWO OF FOUR

Another reason why you should watch movies is that they are cathartic. You can, via sympathy, experience situations and events, that you may never personally get to do first hand. For example, I will not likely ever get to float in zero gravity watching the earth spin from miles above, but there are any number of movies which, with a little imagination, can help you vicariously get that experience, including Gravity and The Right Stuff.

………..Next – Reasons three, four and five out of four —— wait??!! what???…………..

 

 

If there was only one movie I could have on a desert island………

……….I would choose It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). It is astonishing to me  how many people have never heard of this classic. It is the perfect movie: funny, warm, family friendly, yet deals with issues from suicide to accusations of embezzlement and adultery.  Faithful to Catholic teaching yet respectful to all religions. Diverse population without being politically correct. Time travel – of a sort as we review a man’s life. LARGE ensemble cast but every one three dimensional, each given at least one memorable defining moment. Beautifully and purposefully filmed in black and white with shots that take advantage of the natural shadings the way a master artist might lovingly shape a charcoal sketch of their family. Tragedy, hope, despair and redemption. Thoughtful, witty and moments of slapstick. This REEL life is much like REAL life. Some of the most memorable characters you will ever encounter, some of the best acting you will ever see, shots long enough to impress Alfred Hitchcock… forgive an apparent hyperbole but — it really does deal with the meaning of life, and the danged thing makes me cry EVERY — SINGLE — TIME — I — WATCH — IT!

The story starts in Bedford Falls on Christmas Eve. Snow is falling and as you pan over the night of this idyllic town you hear in voice over the prayers of men, women and children on behalf of a man named George Bailey. Then we hear a conversation taking place among Saint Joseph and his superior and….Clarence – an angel Second Class, at which point we immediately understand this movie, while dealing with serious adult and even theological issues, will not mire itself in the somber. One of the brilliances of this film is the way it balances humor with the serious – and in such a way that is completely natural.

You will meet your friends and neighbors, family and — yourself. There is something of the familiar and relatable in all the characters. Bert the cop (Ward Bond of many war movies and old Western TV shows), Ernie the taxi driver (Frank Faylen). (And yes, this is the origin of the Sesame Street characters’ names.) Mr. Gower the druggist (H.B. Warner), Uncle Billy the eccentric (Thomas Mitchell of Gone With the Wind fame), Violet the local vamp (Gloria Grahame), Mary Hatch (Donna Reed – the perfect homemaker LONG before Martha Stewart) plays the girl next door, Peter Bailey (Samuel S. Hinds) – owner of the local Building and Loan…and of course George, his son, the protagonist of the movie played by none other than Jimmy Stewart…and many more. The actors are either famous or classic character actors whose faces you will recognize if you have ever haunted TV Land, Turner Classics or just watched old favorite movies with your grandparents.

While the movie follows, in a very Our Town kind of intimate but universal way, the details of life in this small mythical but archetype town, the plot traverses timeless struggles about the definition of success, responsibility versus one’s personal desires, love versus lust, fame versus family, and with a protagonist who is definitely not perfect. He is truly an Everyman. George wants to be a SUCCESS – build skyscrapers and bridges – but, well, life happens, and instead he builds modest but beautiful houses for a lower income population. He wants to be famous but is pretty much only known by his friends and family. And then there is Mr. Potter (THE Lionel Barrymore, in REAL life the patriarch of three generations of distinguished actors including Drew of ET the Extraterrestrial fame) – the clear antagonist who is the “richest man in town” and who hates/envies the Building and Loan in general and the Baileys in particular. The whys don’t really matter but are easy speculation – the Baileys are competitors for Potter’s banking business and the Baileys have what he can’t – love, home and family.

It is hard to talk about this movie without giving away essential details but I do try to be VERY careful to avoid spoilers. So I won’t say much more but to tell you that this is a film that I would recommend to ANYone.  Child, adult, priest, grandmother, roommate, your 5 year old little sister and your Army buddy.

OK How does this relate to homeschooling? Well, I’ll tell you. I saw It’s a Wonderful Life probably half a dozen times when I was a kid then probably once a year for every one of the 33 years of our marriage. That makes dozens of times. And I plan to see it in the future every year that God gives me. I no more tire of it than I would the face of an old friend. And I see something new in it EVERY time I watch it.

Bryan and I  have been homeschooling for 24 years. As I explain to newbie homeschoolers, homeschooling is not a curriculum, it is a way of life, seeing everything as an opportunity to teach your child something. And I can tell you that not a week has gone by since my adulthood, especially since we have been having kids, without SOMETHING from that movie informing a moment, a thought, a decision. It has inspired me to let an unfair comment go unrevenged, a temptation be avoided, assure an unwanted obligation was lovingly fulfilled. I cannot think of a single challenge in life that could not benefit from an example set by at least one of the characters in this movie. What feats of strength will love for a brother help a man perform? What burdens can be born guided by a sense of honor? What trials can be endured with a sense of humor and just the smallest spark of love for another person? Simple honesty, trust in a parent, the keeping of a confidence, courage to keep a friend from making a terrible mistake, love for your spouse and child, understanding what makes life worth living………

These are lessons that are beyond school books.

I am honored to have seen this movie and to be able to make it the subject of my very first post of my very first blog. I hope Mr. Frank Capra is pleased.

BTW – there was a remake with Marlo Thomas in the lead called It Happened One Christmas, but sadly and all due respect to both Ms. Thomas and her wonderful father, Danny, who founded St Jude’s Hospital – um — just see the 1946 version.

5-26-15