OK, it's October. You know you're ready for something creepy. What fits the bill better than a couple of octogenarian homicidal maniacs, decked out in cameos and crochet, bent on putting a few wayward lonely duffers out of their misery?
The reason Joseph Kesserling's 1939 comedy "Arsenic and Old Lace" keeps popping up, year after year, in high schools and community theaters all over the U.S., is probably its two lead characters and their unique melange of sweetness and sadism. You just don't come across it that often (Sarah Palin not withstanding), and it's something we need more of, especially now.
You know, around Halloween time.
Joyce Romero (left), and Barbara Sedano are up to cute mischief to the chagrin of Mark Bolden in Maui OnStage’s “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
Maui OnStage photo
"I really like the incongruence of these charming old ladies who are knocking people off as a service to the community," chuckled Steven Dascoulias, the play's director. "Audiences will find the aunties funny. They'll be laughing at people dying, but it's unreal enough to keep it light."
The original script was inspired by a true story of boarding house owner Amy Archer-Gilligan, a Connecticut nursing home proprietor who poisoned her charges and collected their pensions. She made headlines around the turn of the previous century for her diabolical, cold-blooded murder spree; experts estimate she may have offed 48 elderly residents.
In "Arsenic and Old Lace," aunties Abby and Martha aren't in it for the money. When a lonely, over-the-hill boarder keels over from a coronary one night, the two dears can't help but notice the peaceful look on his face. They decide every poor sap of that first John Doe's ilk deserves a pleasant departure. They conjure up a potent concoction of elderberry wine, strychnine, cyanide and, of course, a dash of arsenic, and bid adieu to a few of their otherwise unnoteworthy guests.
"Arsenic and Old Lace" opens Friday at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku and runs weekends through Oct. 24 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $40 preferred seating, $18 general, $15 bargain matinees, and are available at the box office before the show, online at www.mauionstage.com or by phone at 242-6969. Information about "dinner and a show" packages with Cafe O' Lei is available at 244-8680.
When their nephew, Mortimer, a recently-engaged theater critic, discovers their dirty little secret, he's in a bit of a pickle. This is when things get really funny. The aunties' other nephew thinks he's President Theodore Roosevelt-so they seize the day and get Teddy to bury the "yellow fever victims" in the "Panama Canal" (the basement). Enter evil, estranged family member Jonathan Brewster and his sidekick Dr. Einstein (roles originated by Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre). Mayhem ensues.
Vinnie Linares has been around this twisted old block a few times, having appeared in "Arsenic" no less than four previous times.
"It's my fifth time in this play!" Linares said. "I've played a Rooney, a dead body and, in high school, I think I played (Jonathan) Brewster but I can't remember! This is the first time I've played Teddy."
Barbara Sedano, who plays jovial murderess Aunt Abby, is no stranger to the Maui spotlight. She's been a mainstay in ProArts' fairy tale productions for several years, but this is the first time she's taken on a leading role. She's very excited and a little bit nervous about all the "face time."
"I've loved the play since I was in my 20s - loved the characters," she gushed. "And I've always been doing my little thing, but this time I'm going to be out front my grandkids are coming to see me!"
"Arsenic and Old Lace" is all about letting go and having a good time; it's "The Munsters" meets "Murder She Wrote." Get your tickets and get in the spirit.
"Dhvani: Music & Dance of India" comes to Montessori Auditorium, 2933 Baldwin Ave., Makawao, at 7:30 p.m. It features Odissi dance by dancer/choreographer Sarala Dandekar and her students, Akari Oeoka and Malati Carano, accompanied by acclaimed tambla player Ty Burhoe (of Tala Records) and popular sarode player Steve Oda. Celebrating John Friend's Anusara Youga workshop and teacher training at The Studio Maui in Haiku this weekend, the evening promises a mesmerizing combination of melody and movement. Tickets are $15 online at www.talarecords.com or at the door based on availability. For more information, call 573-0374.
LOL at the MACC with comedian Chris Franjola. The Maui Arts & Cultural Center inaugurates its Laugh Out Loud comedy series with writer-comedian Chris Franjola in McCoy Studio Theater at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Kicking off the performances that will feature some of the nation's hottest comedians, Franjola has a lengthy list of comedy credentials including his ongoing contributions to Chelsea Handler's TV shows. Tickets are $25 for general admission and $45 for VIP seating, with a post-show meet-and-greet opportunity, plus applicable fees. Pre-show dinner will be offered by BALE French Sandwich & Bakery. For more information, visit www.mauiarts.org or call the box office at 242-7469.
Talking Stories presents a stage reading of "Da No Car Garage," a comedy by up-and-coming Hawaii Island playwright T. Ilihia Gionson, at 6:30 pm Monday at the Historic Iao Theater. Starring Cyndi Mayo Davis, Kepa Cabanilla-Aricayos, Shakey Boteilho, Stacey Moniz and Mike Gormley, and directed by Kealiiwahine, "Da No Car Garage" centers on three young braddahs facing a seemingly-insurmountable catastrophe: a shortage of poke!
Don't miss Maui High grad Jodi Kimura as Bloody Mary in the Lincoln Center touring production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "South Pacific" at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, Calif., from Oct. 12 to 24. For tickets and more information, call (714) 556-2827. Kimura will be featured in next week's "Backstage."
Professional Artists of the Pacific has its way with another classic with its fractured fairy tale adaptation of "The Emperor's New Clothes." Doug Kendrick directs the story of the vain emperor of Boondoggle who squanders his people's money for some swanky duds. Two sly swindlers and one brave emperial employee cook up a plan to teach the selfish ruler a lesson he (and we) will never forget. The show runs weekends from Oct. 15 to 31, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Saturday afternoons at 4 p.m., and Sundays at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Tickets are $15 for reserved seats, and $10 for floor seating, available before each performance, or by calling 463-6520.