Murder is a sister act in ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published November 27, 2018

 From left, Lynnie Heinemann, Mike McKiddy, Megan Haddad, Eddie Tujaka and Sandy Mascow star in Grosse Pointe Theatre’s production of “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

From left, Lynnie Heinemann, Mike McKiddy, Megan Haddad, Eddie Tujaka and Sandy Mascow star in Grosse Pointe Theatre’s production of “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

Photo by Dale Pegg, provided by Grosse Pointe Theatre

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — If Agatha Christie had written a comedy, it likely would have been something like “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

The second show of Grosse Pointe Theatre’s 71st season is a darkly comic mystery about a pair of seemingly sweet senior sisters whose boarders keep winding up as corpses in the cellar of their Victorian home in Brooklyn in 1941. Performances are being staged through Dec. 8 in the University Liggett School auditorium in Grosse Pointe Woods.

Director Kathy Conlon, of St. Clair Shores, knew immediately that she wanted to work on this play.

“Comedies are my favorite kind of show to direct,” Conlon said in an email interview. “This one has survived for decades because of the snappy dialogue coupled with the broad comic elements that characterize the enduring movies and plays of the ’30s and ’40s that generations have come to love.”

Sandy Mascow, of Macomb Township, plays one of the sisters, Abby. In an email interview, she said Abby is “girlish, sweet, compassionate, not afraid of anyone, and a murderess.”

In her GPT debut, Toledo transplant Lynnie Heinemann, of Grosse Pointe Park, plays Martha Brewster, the more timid of the sisters. Abby is her protector, Heinemann said.

“Insanity runs in the family, and unbeknownst to most people, my sister, Abby, and I have developed a warped sense of well-being over the years,” she said in an email interview. “We think we’re performing acts of mercy, by poisoning older ‘gentleman,’ to rid them of their loneliness.”

She said two of the three nephews of the sisters — Teddy, Mortimer and Jonathan Brewster — “are mentally instable as well,” so when the three nephews reunite after years apart, additional chaos ensues.

Mike McKiddy, of Warren, plays theater critic Mortimer Brewster. His brother, Teddy Brewster, lives with the sisters. McKiddy said that despite his career, Mortimer hates theater.

“Underneath the bravado, he’s a good guy that sincerely loves his aunts, brother Teddy, and fiancée; he means well, but his ego makes him a total dope sometimes,” McKiddy said in an email interview. “The events in this show definitely test him like he’s never been tested before. For any ‘Frasier’ fans out there, when I first read the play years ago, I instantly thought of Frasier Crane, which I definitely pulled from a bit when I was figuring Mortimer out. I’m having a blast playing him.”

He said all of the characters are quirky and very different from each other. The humor comes from dialogue that is “downright ridiculous at times, in the best way possible,” McKiddy said.

“Even after a few months of rehearsing, I still find myself laughing out loud at certain lines and scenes,” he continued.

Mascow echoed that sentiment.

“It’s funny because it’s so outrageous,” she said.

McKiddy — who can now also be seen in the comedic film “Maybe Someday” opposite Alley Mills, Kim Matula, Sam Anderson, Dot-Marie Jones and Ser’Darius Blain on iTunes and Amazon — said “Arsenic” is different from other plays.

“This show truly is one of a kind and has everything you could want in it,” he said. “It has elements of so many different genres; there’s some thriller/horror elements mixed with romance and comedy. I’d describe it as what you would get if Stephen King wrote a comedy with Neil Simon. There’s no other play in existence that you can compare it to, which I think is why it’s so popular and has consistently been produced at theaters everywhere since it first premiered in 1941.”

The cast also includes Phil Potter of Ann Arbor, Chris Oakley of Rochester Hills, Mike Parker of Grosse Pointe Woods, Sal Rubino of St. Clair Shores, Megan Haddad of Sterling Heights, Sal DeMercurio of St. Clair Shores, Keith Clark of Harper Woods, Joe Munem of Sterling Heights, Eddie Tujaka of Grosse Pointe Farms, Ed O’Sullivan of Dearborn and Peter Walilko of Grosse Pointe Shores.

As the director, Conlon has tried to stay true to the story and setting.

“The show is set in 1941 in a house that has not changed since the 1880s,” Conlon said. “The whole romantic notion of bringing to life a place and people from two different eras greatly appealed to me, and as the set designer as well as the director, I have tried to make both elements as authentic as possible.”

Heinemann said the fast-paced “dramedy” is one that “will keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat.” She said kids as well as adults should enjoy it

“We hope our play will introduce the eccentric Brewster family to a new generation of playgoers who will then remember the story as fondly as the generations of movie fans and theatregoers who have made this show so popular through almost eight decades,” Conlon said.

The ULS auditorium is located on the campus at 1045 Cook Road. Parking is free, and complimentary valet parking is also available. Tickets cost $20. For tickets or more information, call (313) 881-4004 or visit www.gpt.org.