“Arsenic and Old Lace” Returns to East Lynne Theater Company


Murder! Mayhem! Madcap fun!  This side-splitting comedy broke all East Lynne Theater Company (ELTC) box office records in 2018 and returns by popular demand. The production received excellent reviews,  including one from Terry Teachout for “The Wall Street Journal” who wrote, “It’s hard to imagine a more diverting piece of summer fun than Gayle Stahlhuth’s revival of “Arsenic and Old Lace” at ELTC.  It crackles flawlessly.”

The 1941 comedy by Joseph Kesselring is about the Brewster sisters who populate their cellar with “acceptable” lodgers. One of their nephews thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt, another is running away from the law, and the third is a theater critic who just wants to get married.  

The original production, produced by the famous playwriting team of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, ran on Broadway for 1,444 performances, from January 10, 1941 through June 17, 1944.  It opened in London in 1942 and ran for 1,337 performances, making it the longest-running American play in England at that time. Meanwhile, the world was at war from September 1939 through September 1945. The 1944 film, directed by Frank Capra, has become a comedy classic.

“Arsenic and Old Lace” runs from September 18 through October 12, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., at the First Presbyterian Church of Cape May, 500 Hughes Street, where ELTC is in residence. On September 18, there is an after-show opening night party at The Merion Inn, right across the street, offering free hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar, at no extra cost. An after-show Q&A is on Friday, September 27.

The Brewster sisters are once more played by Suzanne Dawson and Gayle Stahlhuth. This marks Dawson’s eighth different production with ELTC. Her NY credits include “CBS Live” and “The Last Musical,” and she toured nationally in “Rumors” and “Last of the Red Hot Lovers.” Stahlhuth has also performed in Off-Broadway and national touring productions, and has been the artistic director of ELTC since 1999. She is once more directing “Arsenic.”

Their nephews are Mortimer, played by Matt Baxter Luceno, Jonathan, played by Paul Battiato, and Teddy, played by Rob LeMaire.

Luceno, new to “Arsenic” this year, has been in several ELTC productions, including the world premiere of “A Year in the Trenches.” New York credits include “The Winter’s Tale,” directed by Everett Quinton and “Chemistry of Love” at LaMama.  Recently, he performed in the two-hander “Dancing Lessons” at ARC Stages in Pleasantville, NY.  Battiato’s New York credits include “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Frankenstein,” and regionally, he was in “A Man for All Seasons” and “Present Laughter.”  Rob LeMaire, who is also “Arsenic’s” assistant director, has been in ELTC productions since 2001, and for the last three years has directed shows for the company’s Summer Student Workshop.  Shows he’s directed for the Ocean City High School Drama Guild include “Addams Family: A New Musical,” “Stage Door,” and “Spamalot.” 

Mortimer’s fiancé, Elaine, is played by Jennifer Flynn, who graduated from NYU Tisch School of the Arts.  She has performed off-off-Broadway, and spent time in Los Angeles, where she studied with David Mamet and produced and appeared in several theater, film, and online productions.   

Morgan J. Nichols, making his fourth appearance at ELTC, portrays Jonathan’s sidekick, Dr. Einstein.  Recently he’s landed roles in CBS’s “Blue Bloods” and HBO’s “Vinyl.”

Thomas Raniszewski, who’s been performing with ELTC since 2005, was in the world premiere of “Dying Like Ignacio” in NY, and “The Twentieth-Century Way” in Philadelphia. He portrays several roles including Mr. Gibbs, who is looking to rent a room from the two sisters in Brooklyn.  Bob Reader, who plays Mr. Witherspoon, the head of a sanitorium, created the Butchers’ Guild Theatre Company in Orange County NY, and was its producer and director from 1993-2005, while he was a professor at The College of Insurance in NYC, and a minister to small churches.

Two police officers are on hand: Klein is played by Jeff Sharkey and O’Hara, a would-be playwright, is portrayed by Leon Morgan, who is new to the cast this year.  Sharkey was recently in ELTC’s “The Rainmaker.”  TV/film credits include roles in the Investigation Discovery Channel’s series “True Crime,” and on-stage he’s performed with the Margate Players. Morgan studied acting at William Esper Studio, Stella Adler Studio, and HB Studio. This is his third appearance with ELTC, and he’s also worked in other regional theater, Off-Off-Broadway, and in television and commercials – even in Norway.

Tickets are $35; $30 for seniors; $20 for students and military, and ages 12 and under are free.  Cape May Stage and ELTC are celebrating the 3rd Annual Theater Week from October 2 – 5, during which time there will be 50 tickets each night, selling for just $25 each, at ELTC. For information and reservations, call 609-884-5898 or visit eastlynnetheater.org.