Thursday, December 4, 2003

'Arsenic' has weathered the decades well

High School Theater

Mix a cup of elderberry wine, a spoonful of arsenic and a drop of cyanide and the result: Mariemont High School's recent production, the farcical Arsenic and Old Lace.

Though the play was written in the 1930s - and later made into a film with Cary Grant - students in the audience slapped their knees and guffawed at the tale of murder, mystery and marriage.

Two sweet old biddies in Brooklyn decide to serve the community by serving up a deadly concoction to lonely old men. The Brewster sisters have 11 buried in their basement (with a 12th in the window seat) when their long-lost nephew shows up: Jonathon (Ben Walker), the murderer of No. 12. It's up to nephew Mortimer (Christian Walker), the only sane Brewster, to save the household.

The Brewster sisters, Claire Keys and Claire Orr , cackled and crowed through their lines. When a flabbergasted Mortimer informs his aunts that a body is in the window seat, Orr's Abby nonchalantly replies, "Oh, I know."

Jon Groppe stole the show as nephew Teddy, who has delusions of being President Theodore Roosevelt. He marched across the living room, saluted the policemen, and headed into the basement to dig the Panama Canal. Each time he stepped on stage with his chest stuck out, and each time he left it (yelling, "Chaaaarge!"), the audience couldn't help but laugh.

Georgia Gardner, playing Officer O'Hara, used broad gestures and energy to portray a policewoman dreaming of fame as a playwright.

One scene in pitch darkness encapsulates the spirit of the show. Teddy, cleverly illuminated by a following spotlight, carries the latest victim of his aunts' kindness to the Panama Canal to be buried. Seconds later, another spotlight reveals Jonathon furtively dragging his newest corpse into the house. Then, Mortimer arrives ...

Long scene changes took away from the suspense. Otherwise, the technical aspects, especially the lighting by Samantha Sebastian, were well done.

April Yee, Cincinnati Country Day School


The set consisted of the front room and tearoom of the Brewster sisters' house. It was realistic looking, and it was obvious that the crew had put a lot of time into its construction. There were some lighting cues in certain scenes that did not seem necessary, however this did not hurt the quality of the show. Some sound and lighting effects stood out in the show, such as a telephone ring that stopped at the exact time the receiver was picked up, and the nighttime scenes that were done with no onstage lighting except for spotlights.

Erinn Lewis, Ursuline Academy

The heart of the production was with Abby and Martha Brewster, charmingly portrayed by Claire Orr and Claire Keys, respectively. The two worked beautifully together, creating realistic old women cheerily killing off many of their male visitors. Their expressions and character development made these two women some of the most believable in the entire production.

Darcy Zacharias, Ursuline Academy

Christian Walker enhanced his interpretation of drama critic Mortimer Brewster with quick double takes and nervous cover-ups of his aunt's wrongdoings. Ben Walker, as Jonathon Brewster, provided a sinister foil to Mortimer's character. Although a few menacing lines lost their comedic punch, his vocal delivery was packed with dramatic pauses and appropriately overdone emotion worthy of the stereotypical evil villain.

Andrew Wehling, Sycamore High School

Jon Groppe did an amazing job at portraying this slightly off-the-wall character, Teddy.

Clare Hingsbergen, McAuley High School

The amazing chemistry between Claire Orr and Claire Keys, the two insane aunts who do the town a "favor" by poisoning lonely old men with arsenic, allowed for a night of slapstick comedy.

Mark Scherer, St. Xavier High School for McAuley Cappies Team

Their blase attitude towards killing old men was highly comical, and the chemistry between the two was fantastic.

Carolyn Toth, Mount Notre Dame High School

Sean Cameron as Dr. Einstein stole the show with his big gestures and big hair.

Eileen Tull, Indian Hill High School

Coming Saturday in Local News: Loveland High's "It's A Wonderful Life."

The Greater Cincinnati chapter of Cappies, or Critics and Awards Program, is in its third season, with students writing reviews of other high schools' productions. Today, Mariemont High's "Arsenic and Old Lace." For more information, see

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