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Monday, December 22, 2014, 8:58 a.m.
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Arsenic and Old Lace opens Friday in Conway

By Tammy Keith

This article was published July 13, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.

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The cast and crew of Arsenic and Old Lace, which will be performed for three weekends by the Conway Dinner Theater, include, front row, from left, Bill Meehan, Frank Norris, Matthew Norris and Trey Smith; second row, stage director Lisha Nation, Nancy Allen, Rosalyn Moix, Jim Guinee, Tanner Meyer, director Kimberly Norris and Sarah Rawlinson; and third row, Doug Luman, Rick Garner and Devin Sims.

CONWAY — Even if someone has seen the play several times, Arsenic and Old Lace really never gets old, said Joan Hanna, director of the Faulkner Academy of Arts.

The Conway Dinner Theater will perform the play for three weekends, beginning with a dinner and show at 6 p.m. Friday and a show-only performance Saturday at the theater, 2201 Washington Ave. The play will also be performed July 25 and 26, and Aug. 1 and 2. The Aug. 1 date is also show only; the others include dinner.

“This is our ninth year to do it,” Hanna said of the play. “It’s got crowd appeal.”

The play, by Joseph Kesselring, which debuted in 1939, is a farcical black comedy about the Brewster family, composed of “insane homicidal maniacs,” according to the academy’s website.

Those murderers include “the sweet, charming, genteel Brewster sisters, known in their Brooklyn neighborhood for many charitable acts. The one charity that is not advertised is euthanizing old bachelors to die with smiles on their faces — elderberry wine spiked with arsenic is the preferred method,” it says in the synopsis on the website. Also, “Nephew Mortimer stumbles onto their secret, just as his murderous, escaped-convict older brother Jonathan returns home with his sniveling accomplice, Dr. Einstein. To further complicate the situation, something must be done about Teddy, the trumpet-blasting younger brother who believes that he’s really Theodore Roosevelt.”

Hanna said Arsenic and Old Lace cast members almost all live in Faulkner County, “which is kind of unusual. We’ve been drawing from Little Rock, and last fall, we had somebody come from Hot Springs. We’ve been fortunate to draw some very fine actors. We’ve got some new faces. We try to have new faces in every production.”

The play is directed by Kimberly Norris of Greenbrier. Characters and cast members are as follows:

• Abby Brewster — Nancy Allen of Conway;

• Martha Brewster — Rosalyn Moix of Russellville;

• Elaine Harper — Sarah Jane Rawlinson of Conway;

• Mortimer Brewster — Doug Luman of Conway;

• Jonathan Brewster — Frank Norris of Greenbrier;

• Dr. Einstein — Jim Guinee of Conway;

• Teddy Brewster — Travis Lindsey of Greenbrier;

• Officer O’Hara — Bill Meehan of Conway;

• Officer Brophy — Tanner Meyer of Conway;

• Officer Klein — Trey Smith of Conway;

• The Rev. Dr. Harper/Mr. Witherspoon — Devin Sims of Conway; and

• Mr. Gibbs/Lt. Rooney — Rick Garner of Maumelle.

“It is a funny play, even though it’s about murder,” said Guinee, 49.

“It’s the first stage play that I can remember seeing in high school, and I just fell in love with it,” he said.

Guinee said this is the first chance he’s had to perform in the play. He described his character as not having the backbone to stand up to Jonathan Brewster, “the evil force.”

“Dr. Einstein, he’s pretty much a weasel. He’s not as evil as Jonathan,” Guinee said. “Jonathan kills people because he’s a horrible person. Dr. Einstein is his little sniveling accomplice who’s an alcoholic and who has some background in plastic surgery.”

Guinee said his character carries a little flask and sips from it to assuage his guilt.

He said one of the challenges of playing the role is that Einstein speaks with a German accent. Guinee said he also had to learn to fall onstage and has a few scratches to show for it.

The dinner menu is pot roast (the Brewster Sisters’ own recipe), mashed potatoes and green beans. Dessert is the specialty of the Brewster house — Lady Baltimore Cake. (Don’t worry — elderberry wine is not listed on the menu.)

Hanna said that for the dinner portion of the Conway Dinner Theater, parents of students in the Faulkner Academy of Arts get the food from different restaurants, each one’s “best,” such as “somebody’s best green beans.”

All proceeds from the catering go to music scholarships for students in the academy, a nonprofit organization.

More information about the performances can be found at www.faulkneracademyofarts.org. Ticket prices vary, according to whether dinner is included.

The entrance to the theater is on Hutto Street.

“Our theater seats 84, and our back two rows are elevated, so there is not a bad seat in the house,” Hanna said.

“Who doesn’t want to just go spend an evening with somebody waiting on you?” she said. “Like I say, you don’t have to cook dinner; you don’t have to clean up, and afterward, just laughter.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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