For those who prefer jaunty laughs in a dark ballroom instead of the usual Halloween night scare, the black comedy, “Arsenic and Old Lace,” provided just that atmosphere on Oct. 31 at the Carolina Theatre on Greene Street.
The classic show is a comedic rendition of Joseph Kesselring’s original play, “Arsenic and Old Lace,” which was written in 1939, and is widely known for the film adaption starring Cary Grant in 1944.
It is comprised of three acts and one intermission. The plot centers in the dining room of two senile old ladies’ house on a wild Halloween night in the early 20th century.
Seeing the play for the first time is shocking, to say the least. One may ask, “What did I get myself into,” until eventually learning to roll with the chaotic elements of the play, which mesmerizes audience members with its ironic, farcical and morbid humor, that also provokes uproarious laughter and suppressed giggles.
Considering that “Arsenic and Old Lace” was featured on Halloween night, the audience was made up of a majority of older people; however, the Nov. 1 showing promised a much younger crowd.
The play is meant for all ages, as it focuses more on ironic dialogue than the crude, explicit and violent imagery expected for a more mature audience.
An example of the play’s farcical humor is the character of Teddy.
Teddy is presented as a rather odd middle aged man around 50, who has essentially gone off the rails in an extreme sense of the expression.
Teddy thinks he is actually President Teddy Roosevelt, and proceeds to parade across the dining room like a madman with an ear-splitting horn and announce his plan to build the Panama Canal in the small Brooklyn family’s cellar.
This play catches the audience off guard, as anything could happen with its unpredictable plot.
The audience is first brought to an unexpected turn when the character Mortimer discovers a dead body when he opens a window seat, which happens to take place in the midst of proposing to his girlfriend.
When Mortimer brings attention to the body to his aunts who raised him, the women respond, “Oh, don’t worry about that body.”
This shocking turn of events is a massive plot shift from the introduction of the play, which was innocent and peaceful, and did not allude to the old women holding such a sinister secret.
When looking back on the early 20th century, people often view this time as sophisticated and graceful, but this play calls attention to the many faults and misfortunes of this time period.
Once Mortimer lashes out at his caregivers for killing an innocent man, the old women reveal something even more shocking.
“Bury him in the cellar with the other 11 or 12 bodies,” the old women respond.
The characters in the play are somewhat satirical, especially the old ladies, Aunt Martha and Aunt Abby.
Before it is revealed that they are killers, they are portrayed as stereotypical, innocent and caring grandmotherly archetypes.
The type that fix blueberry pies for their children and have their own homemade elderberry wine for welcomed guests. Little did those guests know that a pinch of cyanide was an active ingredient in the wine.
The play takes an even wilder turn in Act Two, when the last of the three brothers, Johnny, and his rat- like, German companion, who is impersonating a doctor, show up at the at the house. These fugitives want to make the Brooklyn home their new headquarters and forcibly move in with the seemingly innocent old ladies and strange, non-presidential son, Teddy.
The play keeps the audience members entertained with its fearless comedy approach, while satirizing a time in American history that is revealed to be less than perfect.