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Hampton students prepare to bring dark comedy 'Arsenic and Old Lace' to life

| Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013, 11:45 a.m.
Louis Raggiunti | Hampton Journal
Brian Hamlin, left, Alex Wood and Vinnie Tharnish rehearse for a scene the Hampton Fall play 'Arsenic and Old Lace.'
Louis Raggiunti | Hampton Journal
Elizabeth Watson and Brian Hamlin rehearse for a scene the Hampton Fall play 'Arsenic and Old Lace.'
Louis Raggiunti | Hampton Journal
Brian Hamlin and Esme Rubinstein rehearse for a scene the Hampton Fall play 'Arsenic and Old Lace.' Made popular by the film version starring Cary Grant, this entire play will be done in black and white, which presented some unique makeup and scenery challenges.
Louis Raggiunti | Hampton Journal
Alexa Aurednik, left, Elizabeth Watson, Esme Rubenstein, Ann Hodos and Brian Hamlin work on a scene together.

Hampton High School students plan to channel the popularity of the black-and-white film adaptation of “Arsenic and Old Lace” with a black-and- white stage performance.

Joseph Kesselring's dark comedy about two elderly sisters who murder lonely old men by poisoning them with homemade elderberry wine laced with arsenic and other poisons was made popular by the film directed by Frank Capra and starring Cary Grant in 1944.

“We wanted to recreate that it's an old movie,” said senior Anna Voelker, co-director for the student-run play, so the set, costumes and even the actors all will be in shades of black, grey and white.

“It's the idea of a 1940s movie coming alive on stage in front of a live audience.”

The only hints of color will be accents of red worn by the murderous stage characters and the elderberry wine.

The concept has presented additional challenges to the students who are handling costuming, lighting and make-up, but the directors are excited to bring a different interpretation of the classic script to the high school stage.

“One of the stage crew members mentioned the idea, and after thinking about it, I'm really excited about it,” said senior Amanda Rulis, co-director. “I think it will draw in an audience.”

“Arsenic and Old Lace” revolves around Mortimer Brewster, played by sophomore Alex Wood, as he deals with his crazy, murderous family while deciding whether to follow through with a marriage proposal to Elaine Harper, a minister's daughter played by senior Courtney Moletz.

Mortimer's Aunt Abby and Aunt Martha, played by junior Tori Trimm and sophomore Isabella Falcione, respectively, care for their Brooklyn community and consider poisoning lonely old bachelors as “one of their charities.”

Trimm and Falcione have spent weeks perfecting their spinster characters into individual personalities on stage.

“You really have to know your character really well to create the differences creatively,” Trimm said. “We make sure we're not blending our characters together.”

The pair even shuffled around the halls of the school conversing in character to flesh out who each elderly woman is.

Mortimer's crazy family is rounded out by his brother, Teddy, played by sophomore Bridget Ebbert. Teddy believes he is President Roosevelt and spends the play digging trenches for the Panama Canal in the basement. The trenches are used to bury the aunts' latest victims, who Teddy believes are victims of yellow fever.

Mortimer's other brother Jonathan, played by senior Brian Hamlin, is a murderer who is trying to escape the police along with his accomplice played by Vinnie Tharnish.

Students have been working since the beginning of the school year to develop their characters and the details of the performance in advance of the show's opening Nov. 14.

“A lot of hard work was put in by the cast and crew,” Rulis said. “I'm really proud of how it's all come together.”

The co-directors also took care in the detail of casting the two dead bodies in the play. One will be played by Jessica Levine, a freshman, and the other will be played by a different surprise Hampton High School faculty member or teacher at each performance.

“Hampton plays, and musicals, are consistent,” Moletz said. “The way Hampton handles productions; it's worth your time (to come).”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or bhofstetter@tribweb.com.

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