THEATER REVIEW: “Arsenic and Old Lace” in Stockbridge [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Barbara Waldinger
Can this 1941 farcical black comedy still amuse an audience in 2017? You bet – check out Berkshire Theatre Group’s production of Arsenic and Old Lace on the Fitzpatrick Main Stage in Stockbridge. If its initial pre-war audience craved an escapist entertainment, perhaps we too might be grateful to enjoy a good laugh and avoid today’s headlines. Joseph Kesselring’s fast-paced story of crazies and murderous misfits appears in the nick of time.
The plot, you may recall, concerns the Brewster sisters (Harriet Harris and Mia Dillon), two sweet, charitable old ladies who take it upon themselves to poison lonely, aged, unattached males in order to put them out of their misery. Their visiting nephew Mortimer (Graham Rowat), upon learning to his horror that a dozen men are buried in the cellar, determines to save his aunts from prosecution.
The play is, believe it or not, fact-based. Beginning in 1907, one Amy Archer-Gilligan operated a convalescent home in Windsor, Connecticut. Residents, including a couple of her husbands, began disappearing after Archer-Gilligan convinced them to pay a flat fee of $1,000 to cover expenses incurred during their lifetime (which didn’t last very long). Investigations of no fewer than 48 deaths in a four-year period produced evidence of poison. A gruesome tale, but Kesselring decided to give it a comic twist after a nudge from his producers.