Friday, October 25, 2013

HELD OVER ONE NITE ONLY! REVIEW: LSP's "Arsenic and Old Lace" Killer

Love Street Playhouse opens 7th Season with "Aresnic and Old Lace."

Held Over By Popular Demand, One Night Only: October 27, 6 p.m.

When two old biddies take it upon themselves to put lonely old men out of their misery by poisoning them with arsenic in their homemade elderberry wine and then planting them "six feet under" in their cellar, craziness ensues.

The Love Street Playhouse production (Woodland, Wash.) of "Arsenic and Old Lace," directed by Melinda Leuthold, stars Melissa Haviv as Abby Brewster, Carl Haeger as the Reverend, Michael McElliott as Teddy Brewster, Scott (a cop again) Clark as Officer Brophy, JD Carpenter as Officer Klein, Lexy Dillon as Martha Brewster, Melissa (Mitchell) Schurman as Elaine Harper, David Roberts as Mortimer Brewster, Tom Golik as Mr. Gibbs and Lt. Rooney, Dan Davis as Jonathan Brewster, Duane Peterson as Dr. Einstein, Kyler Mitchell as Officer O'Hara and (the both dead) Mr. Hoskins and Mr. Spenalzo, and Mark Bergeson as Mr. Witherspoon.

The set of "Arsenic and Old Lace" at LSP by Jeff Leuthold.
All the leads were fantastic and the seconds were good, too. Standouts were Haviv, Dillon, Davis, McElliott and Roberts with Davis and Roberts performing stellarly. Roberts in his best role ever (of the many I've seen) was an incredible hoot. His expressions and double-takes were priceless. Davis was truly diabolical and commanding; taking the stage by storm. Schurman and Peterson also gave performances that soared above all the others I've seen them give.

The Production Was Killer

The production, with another stunning set by Jeff Leuthold (he's outdone himself again; if only all our local theaters would do as well) and lighting (good) by Hal Stewart, offers gobs of laughs and a whole lot of fun. The set was again masterfully dressed by Melinda Leuthold and costumes, by Fran Krohn with Leuthold, were just as great. Hair and makeup were also quite good. (How many bottles of dye job did you use? I didn't even recognize Michael McElliott until he spoke.) Worthy of note was the work of Violence Designer David Gregory Bareford. Also, there was a nice use of musical underscore.

A couple off lighting cues were off opening night and there seemed one moment where a small ensemble seemed to be playing "who's line is it anyway," but everything else seemed to come off without a hitch.
David Roberts as Mortimer (center) with Melissa Haviv as Abby
(left) and Lexy Dillon as Martha (right). Photo by Darci Elliot.

You May Die Laughing

You really need to see this quality performance, just to kill off (yes, pun intended) the autumn blues.

Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, now through October 27. Tickets available at the ticketing website and Columbia Bank (Woodland branch) or by calling 360.907.9996  are $12 and $15. There is now assigned seating and the house was nearly sold out for opening night, so get your tickets early!
Review by Gregory E. Zschomler.
Cast photo by Darci Elliot, provided. Set photo by Gregory E. Zschomler.

The Murderous Maids of Brooklyn
by Dennis Sparks

This is one of the best spoofs of the mystery genre.  It was originally presented on Broadway with Boris Karloff in one of the key roles.  Later it was transferred to the screen with Cary Grant mugging horribly in the leading role and Raymond Massey playing the Karloff role.  A television version restored Karloff to his original role, with Bob Crane (Hogan’s Heroes) playing the hero.  It is a popular play to do in community theatres and was presented here, in all its glory, to a full house.

The story concerns Mortimer Brewster (David Roberts), a New York theatre critic, who frequently visits his maiden aunts, Abby (Melissa Haviv) and Martha (Lexy Dillon), in his childhood home in Brooklyn, which is set next to a graveyard.  He is engaged to the girl-next-door, Elaine (Melissa Schurman).

But, intruding into this idyllic setting is his brother, Jonathan (Dan Davis), a murderer on the lam, and his intrepid companion, Dr. Einstein (Duane Peterson), a drunken, plastic surgeon.  (In his latest botched surgery, his patient, Jonathan, has ended up looking like the Frankenstein monster, via Karloff).  And, if these characters aren’t enough to fill a loony bin, his two aunts have been…well, helping lonely gentlemen to find peace on the other side with the aid of some deadly, homemade Elderberry wine.
And we haven’t even mentioned [the other] brother, Teddy (Michael McElliott), who believes he’s the former president, leading charges up San Juan Hill (the staircase) and digging locks for the Panama Canal (the basement).  These latter items have a dual use, as resting places, also, for the aunts’ victims. 

All this madcap mayhem gives pause to Mortimer’s plans to marry.  As his off-spring just might have this [insanity] gene as well.  Stay tuned for a couple more twists and you have an odd, but enjoyable evening, a perfect comedy for the Halloween time of year.

The set, by Jeff Leuthold, is probably his best yet.  His ability to fill the space with numerous exits/entrances, a staircase and period furniture, and still have room for the actors to expound, is amazing.  He could rival any “professional” in this field.  And Melinda’s costumes perfectly fit the period. 

And, as the Director, not only does Melinda know how to utilize the space, but, for the most part, has cast the roles well.  Timing, at times, was an issue and the pacing could have been picked up more in spots, but I’m sure once the opening night jitters have been worked out, it will be neigh-on perfect.
In the key role of Mortimer, Roberts shines.  This is a role more of reaction than action, so the actor playing it must have a grasp of the double and triple takes.  Also he must have the ability of making the impossible seem plausible and he does.  His portrayal of the befuddled, bewildered and bothered character is wonderful.

Also, the murderous aunts must be played straight and kindly or the audience would be turned off by their nefarious doings.  But both Haviv and Dillon easily slip into this neverland between eccentricity and lunacy.  They actually have you cheering them on and wishing them success in their dubious endeavors.  A tribute to both of them.

I especially liked McElliott’s Teddy.  He did have some resemblance to the character and did a nice job of riding that thin line between reality and fantasy.  And, Davis, although he didn’t resemble Karloff’s creature, he certainly gave off the appropriate menace needed for the role.  You certainly wouldn’t want his grave countenance residing in your neighborhood.

This classic comedy was written by Joseph Kesselring and is directed by Melinda Leuthold (Love St.’s Artistic Director).  It will be playing at their space, 126 Love St. in Woodland, through October 27th.  For more information go to

I recommend this very appealing show.  And, if you haven’t been to this vibrant community theatre, it’s worth seeing one of their productions, as I’m sure you’ll be a repeat customer.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you. 
By Dennis Sparks, Guest Reviewer

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