Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Arsenic and Old Lace
The Players Centre
Review by William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's reviews of Double Indemnity and Doublewide

Cathy Hansel-Edgerton and
Meg Newsome

Photo by Don Daly
The Players Centre for the Performing Arts is presenting a fine production of Joseph Kesselring's classic comedy Arsenic and Old Lace. The play is probably one of the funniest ever written and it has aged well. In fact, there was only one joke that the audience didn't pick up on at the performance I attended, a line about Strindberg having written Hellzapoppin. I'm guessing that few, if any, in the audience (except me) knew what the heck Hellzapoppin.

This classic play stands up well to uneven acting and only gets better in the hands of a first rate cast. My companion for the afternoon and I discussed what a first rate film remake might look like in terms of casting. We came up with any combination of Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin, and Jane Fonda for the Brewster sisters, Danny Devito for Jonathan, and Kevin Kline or Tom Selleck for Teddy. Such great roles and such a zany piece.

Meg Newsome and Cathy Hansel Edgerton are a delight as the Brewster sisters, Abby and Martha, respectively. Although buried under wigs that are way over the top in defining character, both convey the eccentricities of these too caring women. Nephew Teddy (as in Roosevelt) is played by Jalex Scott with a heartiness that brings to mind the public persona of the president he believes himself to be. (A credit listed in his biography, as William Barfee in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at another community theater, makes me wish I had seen that production, even if he seems a little old to play the part, just because I bet he was terrific in the "Magic Foot" song.)

Mark Woodland, previously known to me only as a director, shows great acting talent as well as evil brother Jonathan, while Ren Pearson is very funny as his sidekick Dr. Einstein, even if his performance seems copied from Peter Lorre's in the Frank Capra movie. Stephen Voutsas is new to me as theater critic nephew Mortimer, and he throws himself into the role so much, especially the madcap pace, that he stumbles over lines quite a number of times. Sally Fint plays his on again/off again fiancée Elaine. Phillip Troyer does a nice comic bit (twice!) as Officer Klein in combination with Marko Sumney as Officer Brophy. Troyer continues to gain confidence in his stage deportment. Chuck Conlon doubles as Rev. Harper and Lt. Rooney while Robert Fahey doubles as Mr. Gibbs and Mr. Witherspoon. Drew Deininger mops the floor with his thick Irish brogue as Sargeant O'Hara.

All of the fine performances owe a debt to director Sara Logan who paces this madcap mayhem well. It only seems ready to spin out of control; actually, the directing is quite tight. She is aided by a beautiful set by Jeffrey Weber, fine period costumes by Tim Beltley, and lighting design by Owen Leonard. Cindy Schlotterback doubles as stage manager and props designer in conjunction with the ever resourceful Alyssa Goudy. Ken Junkins is the technical director.

I am delighted with the huge step forward in production level between Summer Sizzler 2016 and 2017. Last summer the productions seemed to be budgeted almost from people's pockets. This year, Beau Jest and the current Arsenic and Old Lace are equal in quality to what is seen on stage at The Players Centre for the Performing Arts all year round. Anyone who has never seen this classic screwball comedy on stage would be well advised to attend this sprightly production.

Arsenic and Old Lace runs through August 20, 2017, at The Players Centre, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL. Box Office: 941-365-2494. For more information visit

Rev. Harper/Lt. Rooney: Chuck Conlon
Abby Brewster: Meg Newsome
Martha Brewster: Cathy Hansel-Edgerton
Teddy: Jalex Scott
Officer Klein: Phillip Troyer
Officer Brophy: Marko Sumney
Mortimer: Stephen Voutsas
Sargeant O'Hara: Drew Deininger
Mr. Gibbs/Mr. Witherspoon: Robert Fahey
Dr. Einstein: Ren Pearson
Jonathan: Mark Woodland
Elaine: Sally Fint

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