Review by Joe Eriole

A Class Cast put on Classic Show in Rhinebeck

You likely know the story from some afternoon “old movie day” to which you treated yourself. The 1944 classic, starring Cary Grant and directed by Frank Capra, is a must-watch for its elegant comedic treatment of the story, beautifully representative of that era’s filmmaking and acting styles.

Just in case, Ovation won’t entirely spoil the plot here. Let us say that two proper spinsters stumble upon their somewhat macabre life’s vocation, which they carry out in a lovely Victorian home while hosting afternoon teas and lovingly looking after their delusional, endearing brother. Hijinks ensure when their adored and adoring nephew drops in for a visit, and the hijinks escalate when another, markedly less adorable, nephew shows up on their doorstep with a diabolical plan of his own.

The Joseph Kesserling script lends itself to fast-paced dialogue and flamboyance, and Producer/Director Lou Trapani has clearly embraced all the hallmarks of the time in which the play was written. Patrick McGriff’s set is gorgeous. McGriff (Set and Sound Design), Scenic Artist Harley Putzer, Costume and Lighting Designer Lobsang Camacho (assisted by Heidi Johnson and Donna Letteri), and  Stage Manager Cheyenne See (assisted by Patti Smith), have created an engrossing environment which is a delightful contrast to the minimalist or industrial stage treatments which have become almost standard.

Trapani has clearly encouraged his actors to lean into the period feel of the dialogue and the comedic opportunities presented by what is essentially the farcical treatment of serial murder in a Victorian living room – over tea. None of the actors disappoint.

Our two protaganists (using the term loosely), Abby and Martha, are masterfully portrayed by Cindy Kubik and Deborah Coconis, respectively. Each have invested their characters with idiosyncrasies which go beyond the ironies inherent in their characters as written. Their command of the language and familiar use of the stage create the perfect centerpiece for the production. It is the sincerity of their relationship and their mastery of the era in which the play is set which ensure that the play is never dark, and always funny. And, so as not to mince words on this point, both Kubik and Coconis are just plain funny.

Mortimer, upon whom Abby and Martha dote, and who uncovers the dark business his aunties are about, is played by Frank McGinnis. McGinnis looks and speaks the part flawlessly. He is suave and sarcastic, and his timing, in a show which depends on it a great deal, is outstanding. Mortimer’s fiancée Elaine is played with erstwhile, and sorely tested, devotion, by Emily DePew.

The “bad guys” are unabashedly over the top. Damaged nephew Jonathan appears with his backroom surgeon and partner in crime, Dr. Einstein (yup), looking to hide a dead body and use the basement as an O.R. Jonathan is played with engrossing physicality, in effective comedic tribute to the era by Denis Silvestri. Silvestri is a striking physical presence and is perfectly cast here as a delightfully sinister antagonist.  Dr. Einstein is played by Melissa Matthews, whose performance is such that one finds oneself waiting for her to appear or speak again. Matthews moves and speaks with an ease and effortless sense of the moment which makes her a joy to watch.

Joseph Beem is a revelation as Teddy (his character believes he is Teddy Roosevelt). He looks and plays the part beautifully, and we, like Abby and Martha, cannot conceive of a Teddy deprived of his delusion. He is always endearing, but Beem also invests him with the physical dignity appropriate to his imagined status.

The show opens to afternoon tea with Reverend Harper – so there is no doubt that the spinsters are nice ladies, of course. That tone is nicely set by Patricia Franklin’s graceful portrayal of the good Reverend.

The cast is ably rounded out by Tom Starace, Jim Marinan, John Murray, Farrell Reynolds, and Monte Stone.

Trapani’s Director’s notes ought to be highlighted because of the success he and his actors have had in realizing the vision he expresses. Trapani tells us: “there’s just so much worrying I can do about all of the things which plague us in this year of our Lord 2019, hence this production wherein the actors take stage, act cheap, and exit fast. Feel free to chortle, snort, and guffaw.”  

Yes, indeed.

Arsenic and Old Lace is in its final weekend this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Tickets are available online at centerforperformingarts.com, or at the door. Enjoy.

Joe Eriole

Joe Eriole is a local actor, director and artist, who has been part of the live music and theater arts community in the Hudson Valley for over 30 years. Professionally Joe is an attorney, organizational executive and management consultant. He lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife and has two children who are currently making the world a better place.

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