Humor with a pinch of murder

When you visit LeAnn ElderKalstein and Jerrie Clarke, you’ll probably find that they are wonderful hostesses but if you visit their alter egos, Martha and Abby Brewster, you’ll  most likely end up with flowers on your grave once a week.

These real life women play the genteel and deadly sisters in the Virgin Valley Theatre Group’s production of Arsenic and Old Lace, which opens Friday, Nov. 2, at the Mesquite Community Theatre, 150 N. Yucca St.

As a member of the audience, you’ll probably be safe from the wine but the director and cast members can’t guarantee that you won’t die laughing; it’s their mission to make you.

Mortimer Brewster (Travis Diagle) is living a happy life: he has a steady job at a prominent New York newspaper, he’s just become engaged, and he gets to visit his sweet spinster aunts to announce the engagement.

Mortimer always knew that his family had a bit of a mad gene, his brother Teddy (Mark Guertin) believes himself to be Teddy Roosevelt and his great-grandfather used to scalp Indians for pleasure but his world is turned upside down when he realizes that his dear aunts have been poisoning lonely old men for years!

When Mortimer’s maniacal brother, Jonathan (Chad Calmelat), who strangely now resembles Boris Karloff, returns with accomplice, Dr. Einstein (Marilyn “Mike” Brenner) on the night that the aunts were planning to bury the newest victim, Mortimer must rally to help his aunts and protect his finace’ Elaine (Nanette Greener)while trying to keep his own sanity.

As if the antics among family aren’t enough, the playwright, Joseph Kesselring, throws some Keystone-ish cops into the mix and solving the murders gets humorously confusing.

Officers Klein (John T. Bird), Brophy (Peter Pelliccio) and O’Hara (Ted Ung) do a fine job solving the case and capturing the escaped Johnathan but things get a little jumbled on the murder front especially when their fearless and overbearing Lt. Rooney (Teri Nehrenz) shows up to claim Johnathan and the reward for his capture, but, she’s a busy woman and doesn’t have time for all this talk of murder.

Other supporting cast members include: Dr. Harper (John Sadler), Gibbs (John T. Bird) and Superintendent Witherspoon (William Wright).

You’ll see some old familiar faces and some shining new stars on the stage for this production which is directed by Nancy Arnold, a newcomer to the VVTG as well but not to the stage. Arnold and Sue Kjellsen have been involved in writing Melodramas for community theaters in Alaska for over two decades.

Arnold is new to Mesquite and Kjellsen still lives in Alaska; the two do a lot of face time to write scripts but Kjellsen happens to be visiting and helping with this production.

There’s a bit of irony involved with the production as well.  Clarke, who plays Abby Brewster, has been living in and involved in theater in Mesquite for years; she moved from Alaska where she actually performed in one of Arnold and Kjellsen’s plays years ago.  Clarke, knowing their  good work, was thrilled to become part of this production although she didn’t actually audition for it.

The show was originally cast in May with an almost entirely different cast and a different director.

The characters have changed drastically from the beginning; some characters having as many as four different actors through the rehearsal stages.

Arnold stepped up to the plate when the original director dropped out and has had her fair share of challenges along the way just finally getting her last cast member in order when Nehrenz joined them on Oct. 1.

Don’t let all the casting confusion get you down, the cast and director are right on track with the rehearsals, lines and laughs; you’re going to love it.

Of course no show is complete without the hard work of those who remain behind the scenes. Stage Manager Pam Sadler has her work cut out for her just getting everyone organized and keeping the schedule on track with all the changes.

The stage design and build wasn’t a problem for Glen Bjornson who got on the task and has successfully managed to build a two story set on a one story stage; you’ll never be able to tell it isn’t a real house.

With all the change in characters there is a definite challenge for costume designers Patti Bjornson, Marnie Bartolini and Janet McDonald to keep up with the sizes but they’ve got it all together as well.

This has probably been one of VVTG’s most challenging productions and may just turn out as one of the finest; come see for yourself.

For more information on VVTG, the Mesquite Community Theater and ticket availability or volunteer opportunities, visit their website www.vvtgnv.com.

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