Liberty News

Murder farce ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ opens in Box Theater

December 1, 2017 : By Victoria Conner/Liberty University News Service

An outrageous old ladies’ murder ring operates beneath the surface of the plot of “Arsenic and Old Lace,” bringing some twisted humor to The Box Theater for the final Liberty University Department of Theatre Arts production of the semester. The play opens today, Dec. 1, and runs through Dec. 17.

The broadly satirical comedy follows the eccentric Brewster family in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1941. Mortimer Brewster, who works at a prominent New York newspaper, visits his sweet spinster aunts to announce his engagement to Elaine Harper when his world is turned upside down. He realizes that his aunts have been poisoning lonely old men for years. He must help them bury their latest victim and protect the woman he loves from his homicidal family, all while attempting to maintain his own sanity.

“It’s a play where a lot of the comedy comes from the family dynamic,” said sophomore theatre performance student Joshua Reed, who plays Mortimer Brewster. “We joke about our families being crazy, but this play takes that to a whole new level.”

“Arsenic and Old Lace” opened on Broadway in January 1941 and ran for over 1,333 performances — a record for its time. Since its Broadway success, Frank Capra turned the play into a movie hit starring Carey Grant and much of the original cast. The play has been adapted for television many times.

“The jokes that made audiences laugh back then still do today,” said freshman theatre performance student Sydney Shultz, who plays Elaine.

“It’s a show that has stood the test of time,” added Chris Nelson, the play’s director and an associate professor of Theatre Arts. “It has some very good, very clever writing. If audiences want to laugh with a show that has made audiences laugh for decades, this is the one to come to, and I expect they’ll have a good time.”

The two-story set in The Box Theater will give audiences the feeling that they are guests in the Brewster family’s home. The recent opening of the new theater space has allowed Liberty to bring more intimate productions to its mainstage lineup.

“Audiences will really be able to see what’s happening and be more a part of the story,” Shultz said.

Nelson said the style of the play presents some physical challenges for the cast.

“There’s a lot of door slamming and physical comedy with the set in this play,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for our students to gain more experience in that style of theatre because farce requires quicker pace and more wit.”

Maintaining body control is key, Reed said. “You have to move when necessary for the jokes to land.”

For the entire cast and crew, which consists of many new students, the play is an opportunity to put their studies into practice.

“I really try to combine the theory and the learning happening in the classroom into, in essence, our laboratory space, which is the theater,” Nelson said.

To purchase tickets, visit the Tower Theater website or call the Liberty University Box Office at 434-582-SEAT (7328) during weekday business hours. On the night of a performance, call the Tower Box Office at (434) 582-2085.