Dallas is bustin’ out all over February with a wild array of juicy stage productions, never mind that the reactionaries running amok in our state and national guvmints seem determined to get rid of the arts to “balance budgets”, in predictably humorless bureaucratic zeal. Imagine, if you can, a national budget where the arts represent a significant enough pie slice upon which to balance more than a flea’s wing portion! Here’s a review of one ongoing stage entertainment option.
Dallas Theater Center’s Arsenic & Old Lace by Joseph Kesserling February 4 – March 13, 2011
Fun to finally see this classic 1941 drawing room comedy performed by actors old enough for its roles. In acclaimed Broadway director Scott Schwartz’s production at DTC, comedy is amped up to a maniacal farce crescendo, with added bits, gags and gimmicks designed to suit the palate and attention span of a sound-byte addicted modern audience. Right off the bat, a mysterious gas masked figure emerges in silence to blow up a downstage dollhouse replica of Anna Louizos’ resplendent set which fills every inch of the Kalita Humphreys Theater stage. Not sure what that action portends, but everyone watching chuckles. Three acts as written, still perceptible, have morphed here into two. The pace careens along at rocket launch speed, particularly after Act One’s expository hoo-ha. DTC brought in two major Kahuna stars to play the “sinister Brewster sisters”, each with a blueblood resume reflecting definitive, distinguished artistic careers. Tony winning and Emmy, Olivier and Grammy nominated star of stage, film, television and concert stage, and 2009 Texas Medal of Arts awardee, Betty Buckley portrays stern Martha Brewster. As her flighty, exuberant sister and crime partner Abigail, Scott Schwartz cast effervescent Tovah Feldshuh, multiple stage, film and television honored actress and recipient of the Israel Peace Medal and Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitas Award for her extensive support of the Jewish arts community. These gals grasp comedy routine right down to eking out the faintest giggle from the most reluctant audience member. They appear to enjoy playing off one another with an engaging, vivacious charm seldom seen on Dallas stages. DTC associate artist and regional acting stalwart Lee Trull captures the bumbling yet suave essence of the ladies’ favorite nephew Mortimer.
He uses every delectable ounce of impeccable deadpan comic timing and clownish physicality he possesses in portraying the play’s “hero”. And garnered the most applause at the play’s curtain call.
A strong assemblage of regional and national talent fleshes out the cast. SMU professor James Crawford resonates as an irrepressible wannabe playwright and cheerful, derelict Irish cop. Recent Houston transplant Jason Douglas ups the suspense as Mortimer’s evil brother with a visage right out of a horror film and gloomy personality to match. Dapper Paul Taylor displays his signature delicate comic sensibility in dual roles as the Brewster sisters’ neighboring reverend with a sweet singing voice and a dim-witted police lieutenant. National stage and film artist Nehal Joshi, evil Jonathan’s sidekick Dr. Einstein, enacts most of the play’s silliest comic bits with determined, long-suffering verve. DTC Acting Company’s Abbey Siegworth shines as Mortimer’s spunky, clueless, devoted fiancée. J. Brent Alford delivers the funniest performance of the show in playing Mortimer’s crazy brother Teddy without gaming for laughs. His Teddy sincerely believes he is Teddy Roosevelt and that he’s trekking to Panama when he heads to the house basement or blows his annoying bugle at all hours. Alford seems least aware of the audience and genuinely focused in finding the credible reality in his wacky stage role. This is a capital F funny production, performed at such a galloping pace and level the playwright might not recognize his own work. Why did DTC choose to mount Arsenic and Old Lace? “Communal laughter brings us collective joy and release”. Mission accomplished. Check out the marvelous, detailed Victorian house set by Broadway scenic designer Anna Louizos, oozing charm behind the peculiar blown up dollhouse replica.