It is one of the unfair mysteries of arts funding that quality is not supported on a nation basis by the Arts Council. Professional venues and companies stage small cast plays and it is left to the so-called amateur section to give the public the big cast entertainments. Such is the plight and achievement of Dungarvan Dramatic Club, who present at least two large cast plays annually. There are thirteen performers in their fine production of the 1940s hit – Arsenic and Old Lace by one-hit wonder, Joseph Kesselring.
A fine set with four functioning doors and a functioning window helps the zany madcap style of this play about a crazy insane family – the Brewsters. The costume work was excellent and the make-up skills of Kate Cross were commendable, especially in the aging of the two central Brewster spinster sisters who murder at least a dozen old lonely men out of their crazy notion of kindness.
Siobhan Buckley as Abby and Margaret Dennehy as Martha are wonderful as two dotty old dears who exude normality as they poison men with arsenic – just a pinch – in elderberry wine. Their normality heightens the madcap quality of the production that includes four dopey cops, a trusting Asylum superintendent, Mr. Witherspoon, played by Patrick Codd.
Shane Collender played Mortimer Brewster, a theatre critic who dislikes theatre but is afraid to marry the young girl – the parson’s daughter, because he is afraid the family insanity will surface in his children.
At times the production had too much respect for the classic nature of the play and failed to advance the pace and neglected to underscore the macabre aspects with suitable lighting and sound effects. That said, it was a great night’s entertainment with a wow of a comic performance from Dave Pollock as Teddy Brewster who believes he is Teddy Roosevelt, the President who toots loudly on a bugle and charges up the stairs to great comic effect. He also believes he is building the Panama Canal in the basement as well as fighting Yellow fever.
Pat Power plays a restrained Doctor Einstein and that fine actor, Con Sullivan, is saddled with an out-dated Boris Karleff joke as the insane serial killer Johnathan Brewster (In the original production Karloff played the role).
Kesselring, a vocal coach, was a one-hit author but his wife Charlotte funded the Joseph Kesselring Prize that is famous in theatre bursaries and was won once by Tony Kushner who went on to write Angels In America.