With only a few minor tweaks, “Arsenic and Old Lace”
remains just as fresh and entertaining for today’s audiences as it was
when first performed in 1941, says Brittney Benjamin, director of the
Lansing Civic Players’ production.
Benjamin wants her take on the dark comedy, about drama
critic Mortimer Brewster, who discovers his family’s murderous
insanity, to be as close to the original as possible.
Benjamin updated some of the awkward, antiquated phrasing of the original and took out many racial epithets common in the era.
The characters themselves, though, were where Benjamin saw the most potential for growth.
For example, the play’s two lovable and murderous aunts,
who serve arsenic-laced elderberry wine, are “always together in a
scene. They kind of get lumped into that generic old-lady persona and
never get to develop their own personalities.”
Benjamin spent time differentiating the two similar
characters, having one be more outgoing and the other more reserved and
Mortimer’s fiancée, Elaine, posed another challenge for the director.
“In trying not to portray a flat character, people tend
to either play her as very sweet and cute, or really vamped-up sexy,
and so we’ve been trying to strive for a balance between the two.”
Benjamin also played around with the show’s villain,
Jonathan, in order to better display his “build-up of anger and why he
does the crazy things he does.”
Benjamin’s goal with modifying the characterizations is
to move away from what she sees as a consistent problem with slapstick
comedies like this. The characters can tend to become flat and
one-dimensional for the sake of humor, but Benjamin wants the audience
to be able to laugh while still engaging with the characters.
“We’ve been trying for something completely new,” she says.
‘Arsenic and Old Lace’
Lansing Civic Players
Through Oct. 23
Hannah Community Center, 819 Abbot Road,
8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23
$14 adults; $8 students and seniors