By Nancy Jordan
For the Anchorage Times
Like a seasoned seductress, some long-lived plays still manage to charm, even though the tell-tale marks of age are embarrassingly visible.
In such august company is “Arsenic and Old Lace,” the current offering by the Anchorage Community Theatre at Alaska Pacific University’s Grant Hall. The anachronistic weakness of the vehicle emerge like Denali on a clear day — for example, who in 1989 would rejoice at moving into a nursing home, even if it is named Happy Dale?
Nevertheless, Joseph Kesselring’s 1938 merry mockery of murder-by-mercy contains more than enough genuine humor to overcome the graying at the temples. It is this strength, of course, that makes it durable, and the ACT production fortunately supplies several competent cast members who make the most of fun.
What director Neil O’Leary does not provide, however, is the delicious contrast that Kesslering wove into the spectacle of two sweet, charitable Victorian spinsters and their skill with cyanide that dispatches lonely, old men who, they assume, no longer want to live. O’Leary needs to give these two important characters more advanced age, a helpless fragility, even fear and a bit of feebleness. Otherwise, Kesselring’s main joke evaporates.
O’Leary’s neglect of this basic dimension puts a dreary meaninglessness on the opening of the play. Not, in fact, until Dan Wolfe opens the door and introduces his splendid Mortimer Brewster does the production come to life. Wolfe handily rescues Act 1 and sustains most of the action that follows. He is well-paced, restrained and a riot.
The constant intrusion of friendly police, the shifting of corpses in the night and Mortimer’s determination to protect his aunts — and, hopefully, other old men — make for hilarious melange. The production is saved from implausibility not only by Wolfe, but also by Hugh Leddy — wonderfully underdrawn as the Germanic doctor — and of Steve Sutherlin as the sinister Jonathan. Sutherlin’s malevolence and Leddy’s apt timing create marvelous teamwork.
Sound acting is turned in by Ken Parham as the would-be Roosevelt and Ben Clayton as a playwriting policeman. in fact, a reliable cast saves the show at APU.