Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Regional Reviews

Arsenic and Old Lace
Hands-down Audience Favorite Opens 86th Season for ALT

Albuquerque Little Theatre

Colin A. Borden and Ryan Jason Cook
You might think it's risky to open a new season with a play from the 1940s, but director Henry Avery knows his audience. Each year Albuquerque Little Theatre opens its play and musical suggestions to voting, and the loyal crowd made Arsenic and Old Lace their top pick. Because ALT never disappoints its patrons, this comedic production is perfection. Avery deserves credit for not missing a nuance of the plot and for keeping the action at a high romp.

We all know the story: Mortimer Brewster's aging aunts, Martha and Abby, have taken to poisoning lonely old men who come to their house to rent a room. In the aunts' eyes, it's a "charity" to end the suffering of people without family or prospects. Their nephew Teddy (David Nava as a fun and fine facsimile of Theodore Roosevelt) thinks he is the 26th president and is digging the locks for the Panama Canal in the basement. Of course, that's where the bodies are buried; Teddy thinks they died of yellow fever. When Mortimer finds out what's going on, his barely controlled hysteria and need to protect the family drive the many delights of this comic farce.

Arsenic's cast handles the comings and goings with professional aplomb. Colin A. Borden sets the tone as Mortimer, the self-assured drama critic who abruptly comes apart when he discovers what's in the window seat. His performance is pitch perfect and hilarious without being over the top. The role of Jonathan Mortimer, a long-gone sibling and the villain of the play, is ably filled by Ryan Jason Cook, whose portrayal somehow combines a fine sense of menace while making us laugh. Cook has a good time with this character, twitching and humming to himself and generally scaring the pantaloons off the Brewsters and friends.

It's key to the comedy that the homicidal aunts come across as lovable and sincere. Paula Stein and Carolyn R. Ward are remarkable as Martha and Abby; their comic timing and dovetailing dialog convinces us that they have indeed lived together all of their lives. Far from being stuffy, these elderly aunts love their family and friends and even have a healthy regard for their victims. Too bad they are murderers. If you thought rooting for TV's serial killer Dexter was weird, just catch yourself hoping Abby and Martha stay out of jail.

As always in an ALT production, the supporting roles are well cast and acted. Dehron Foster as Jonathan's henchman Dr. Einstein abets Jonathan's schemes but is just as much Jonathan's prisoner as the Brewsters are. Foster gives us a fully realized, comic, understandably anxious character instead of a cartoonish drunk. Shelby Stebleton nails the breeziness and later unhappiness of Elaine Harper, fiancee to Mortimer, unable to understand why he blows hot and cold.

Kudos to the clueless cops, Klein (Thane Kenny), Brophy (Tim Riley), O'Hara (Jeremy Joynt), and Lt. Rooney (Nicholas Ganjei), who can't see what's under their noses. At least they look handsome in uniform. Costume designer Sharon Welz does a wonderful job with the period costumes and prop designer Nina Dorrance also gets it absolutely right.

And the set, oh, the set. The curtain is up as the audience arrives so they can take in the living room of the Brewsters' ancestral home. It is a marvelous depiction of an old family house where even the wallpaper convinces you of stability, propriety, and comfort—except for the body in the window seat. And the seven or so entrances/egresses announce that this play will indeed be a classic farce. Scenic designer Ryan Jason Cook and lighting designer Chris Duncan deserve applause, for both set and lighting are crucial to the action of the play.

Plenty of tickets are available for this coming weekend, the last for Arsenic and Old Lace. Get them now because, for good reason, ALT almost always sells out.

Arsenic and Old Lace through September 13, 2015, at Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale Ave SW, Albuquerque. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm; Sundays at 2:00pm. Special Thursday performance at 7:30pm on September 10. Tickets: General Admission $22; Senior $20; Student $18; Child $12. For tickets and other information, call 505-242-4750 or visit

Photo: Randy Talley Photography

--Stephanie Hainsfurther

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