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The Footlight Players exhume a hoary chestnut of community theatre

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Arsenic and Old Lace
Footlight Players
Running through Sept. 23
Footlight Theatre
20 Queen St., 722-4487

Hello there! Come on in and have a cup of tea, won't you dearie? I do so like having visitors. You see, I live here with my sister Martha and our nephew Teddy — don't mind Teddy, he just thinks he's President Roosevelt — and it helps to have a fresh body in here once in a while to liven up the place.

You've arrived in time for some splendid news. Those community theatre darlings, the Footlight Players, are staging our story to launch their 75th season. I find that "bully," as Teddy would say, because although their production has some flaws, it still hits enough comedic notes to make it a worthwhile evening at the theatre.

My sister is reminding me to point out that we personally abhor anything to do with the theatre, and are very concerned that our nephew Mortimer is a dramatic critic. But the babyfaced Adam Miles plays him with such innocence and energy that he makes an imperfect character seem rather nice. Adam is a good actor with a strong voice that counterpoints his cherubic appearance. The sight of him kissing his fiancée Elaine still makes us giggle, though.

Mortimer's much sweeter than Jonathan, the black sheep of the family. He fancies himself as some kind of criminal, affording playwright Joseph Kesselring with precious opportunities to make fun of gangsters and "old dark house" movie clichés. Jonathan is portrayed by another accomplished actor, Mike Ferrer, who's saddled with some disappointing makeup. Mike manages to be menacing despite his panda eyes, giving some of the most natural reactions in the play. He's obviously a Methodist.

Mortimer and Jonathan both discover our secret, and for some reason they make a big fuss about it. What's wrong with burying a few bodies in the cellar, for Heaven's sake? Before we know it, our house is as busy as Piccadilly Circus, with police coming in and out, cheerfully ignoring the cadavers we have hidden in the window seat. Mortimer's attempts to keep us out of prison provide the play's main farcical thrust, with ample opportunities for local actors to make solid appearances in supporting roles.

Best among these are Fred Hutter as Dr. Herman Einstein, who makes a great foil for Ferrer; Lawrence Thomas Taylor, perfect in a bit as one of our would-be victims — er, I mean lodgers; and Daniel Lesesne as a handsome young police officer. Arsenic uses a mix of set-in-their-ways Footlight veterans (like E. Karl Bunch and Hal H. Truesdale) and wide-eyed starlets (Christy Coleman and Erin Allison Mansour, frightfully awkward in her role as Elaine). Cornerstones of the cast are a likeable Nat Jones as Teddy, Samille Basler as Martha, and Jan Moore, in my role, as Abigail. Although it's sometimes hard to distinguish between the voices of the two actresses, they imbue their caricatured parts with the right amount of dignity amidst the dottiness.

Director Bill Stewart uses this play to demonstrate what the Players are capable of: depicting colorful characters and equally brash and effective costumes in a long-winded farce, with jokes as fresh as our first kill. The atmospheric lighting doesn't draw too much attention to itself, and the purple-patterned set (a replica of the set used in Footlight's original 1942 production) successfully suggests our adorable three-story house.

The Players use the same set to present a ten minute "curtain warmer" called i am drinking the goddamn sun, a concise, narrative-led original comedy written by New Yorker Brian PJ Cronin that pokes fun at New York critics in a smart and well-written manner. Although I did not approve of its use of a certain four-letter word that is rarely heard in this theatre, I think that Mortimer would give it a killer review.

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