Classic 'Arsenic and Old Lace' in a merry revival

This won't hurt a bit: (from left) Peter Schmitz, Jane Ridley, and Mary Martello in "Arsenic and Old Lace."                      J. Urdaneta Photography
This won't hurt a bit: (from left) Peter Schmitz, Jane Ridley, and Mary Martello in "Arsenic and Old Lace."                      J. Urdaneta Photography
Posted: March 22, 2014

Corpses in the cellar, clueless cops, sweet old ladies, long-lost brothers, crazy other brothers: This is the farcical frolic that is Arsenic and Old Lace at the Walnut Street Theatre. The Blacklist it's not, although there are plenty of serial killers on the scene.

A famous play written 75 years ago by a playwright nobody ever heard of (Joseph Kesselring) and made into an even more famous movie, Arsenic and Old Lace is a rom-com a la Keystone Kops, served with a large helping of vaudevillian chase scenes (rolling pins and all) and a sufficiency of uh-oh moments.

Charles Abbott directs a large cast of Philly faves, led by Mary Martello and Jane Ridley. Ben Dibble plays Teddy Brewster, who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt and hollers "Bully!" from time to time. Damon Bonetti is his brother Mortimer, who just happens to be a drama critic (with all the foreseeable meta-jokes), and Jennie Eisenhower is his girlfriend. Dan Olmstead provides the scary stuff as the third brother, Jonathon.

As the spinster sisters, "two helpless old women" whose homemade elderberry wine has quite a kick, Martello and Ridley are adorable, wearing their old lace with style. Bonetti is a bit too frantic in his physical humor; a little suave sophistication might work better, especially as it would provide a contrast to everybody else. The bit parts are played by fine actors, including Paul Nolan, Fran Prisco and John Jarboe.

Set in an overdecorated house untouched since the 19th century (designed by Robert Klingelhoefer), with terrific period costumes (by Colleen Grady), the production lays it all on very thick. It might be funnier if it were faster and less slapstick, but the show provides an evening of easy entertainment.

Arsenic and Old Lace is goofy and fun and requires nothing of the audience other than to sit back and watch it play out merrily.


Arsenic and Old Lace

Through April 27 at Walnut Street Theatre, 9th and Walnut Sts.

Tickets: $10-$85

Information: 215-574-3550 or 1-800-982-2787 or walnutstreettheatre.org.

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