Pretty Poison: SBCC opens season with ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’

From left, Leslie Ann Story, Christopher Lee Shortand Linda MacNeal in The Theatre Group at SBCC's production of "Arsenic and Old Lace"
From left, Leslie Ann Story, Christopher Lee Shortand Linda MacNeal in The Theatre
Group at SBCC’s production of “Arsenic and Old Lace”

When writer Joseph Kesselring first imagined the story of “Arsenic and Old Lace” he saw it more as a Gothic tale, based on a notorious case of the time where the owner of a boarding house poisoned guests to get their pensions. But, rumor has it, Broadway producers Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse convinced Kesselring to make it a comedy and so he did. The play is now a classic, community theaters everywhere still putting on productions, including SBCC’s Theater Group, who premiere the comedy this coming Wednesday.

In the play, the Brewster family is largely composed of homicidal maniacs except for the youngest, drama critic Mortimer Brewster (Jay Carlander), who comes home to marry the girl he loves, fend off police, and wonder how he’s related to everybody else. The heads of the house are two spinster aunts who murder lonely old men with elderberry wine laced with arsenic, helped by Mortimer’s brother (Christopher Lee Short) who is under the delusion he is Theodore Roosevelt and helps dig the graves for their victims. There’s a murderous older brother, too (John Bridle) who is living with a botched plastic surgery job to hide from the police.

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Lost in memories in The Lady and the Clarinet

Michael Cristofer’s play “The Lady and the Clarinet” is less a straightforward romantic comedy and more like a mysterious chocolate candy. The outside is sweet, but the inside is bitter the more you chew — and by the end you’re not sure if the outside was really chocolate to start with.

Mr. Cristofer earned a Pulitzer Prize for his earlier play, 1977’s “The Shadow Box.”

“The Lady and the Clarinet” dates from 1984, and was at one point an off-Broadway hit for Stockard Channing. Director Maggie Mixsell has resurrected the play and brought it to Santa Barbara City College’s Jurkowitz Theater for a three-week run, where it becomes a star vehicle for its leading lady, Katie Thatcher.

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