By Sue Suchyta
Raise a glass of elderberry wine to the Players Guild of Dearborn as its 89th season continues with the Joseph Kesselring comedy “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
Directed by Paul Bruce of Dearborn, the show runs 8 p.m. Jan. 13, 14, 20, 21, 27 and 28, and 2:30 p.m. Jan. 15, 22 and 29.
When Mortimer introduces his fiancée to his family, he faces many challenges. His eccentric elderly aunts run a boarding house for old, lonely men, and are shortening their stay with poisoned elderberry wine, while his brother Teddy, who thinks he is Roosevelt, is digging the Panama Canal in the basement, which the aunts conveniently use as graves. Mortimer’s brother Jonathan, a maniacal criminal on the lam, arrives with Dr. Einstein, a dubious plastic surgeon, whom Jonathan hopes will disguise him.
As different bodies compete for the latest spot in the Panama Canal, lights are turned on and off, different people enter into the house, and hilarity ensues.
The cast includes Dearborn residents Julie Ballantyne Brown as Elaine Harper, Rich Bulleri as the Rev. Dr. Harper, Ken Kilgore as Mortimer Brewster, Ken Overwater as Dr. Einstein and David Wood as Lt. Rooney.
Also in the cast are Allen Park residents Tom Sparrow as Mr. Gibbs and Nathan Vasquez as Officer Klein; Michael Micheletti of Dearborn Heights as Officer Brophy; Sue Delosier of Lincoln Park as Abby Brewster; Rob Eagal of Trenton as Teddy Brewster; Guy Copland of Berkley as Jonathan Brewster; Marc Walentowicz of Garden City as Officer O’Hara, Rick Town of Flat Rock as Mr. Witherspoon and Margaret Kinnell as Martha Brewster.
Bruce said he wanted to direct the show not only because he loves the story, but because the plot is well known, which gives him an opportunity to surprise audiences with his own unique spin.
“It gives me an open invitation to do things different with it, to give it a fresh face,” he said. “I kind of re-sculpted the way the set is normally laid out, so it would be staged (with) completely different blocking.”
Bruce, a Dearborn teacher, is bringing 200 of his middle school students with chaperones to the Jan. 11 dress rehearsal.
“I am hoping that they are learning that theater is something wonderful and they should go to it often,” he said.
Bruce said he hopes all audiences have an enjoyable evening.
“I am hoping that I give them an incredibly happy night,” he said, “where they are just laughing and besides themselves with delight because it is so much fun.”
Kilgore, who often plays romantic leads, said he likes the Guild’s mid-season comedy slot. He said while the set and blocking are different from standard renditions of the show, Bruce’s direction definitely makes the show worth revisiting.
He said he watched Cary Grant in the movie version, and he doesn’t plan on modeling his performance after the matinee idol’s performance.
“I don’t want to be impersonating Cary Grant,” Kilgore said. “They are not going to see the same thing. They might see some similarities. I would love to be able to impersonate Cary Grant, but it’s not going to happen. I am not doing the real sharp quick turns and moves that he did.”
One of his favorite parts of the show is his character’s disbelief in how the aunts behave.
“Mortimer just can’t understand that they can’t see the problem with what they are doing,” he said. “It’s kind of like Earnest and Algernon (in Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”): ‘You can’t do this. It isn’t right what you’re doing. Why can’t you see things my way?’”
Eagal, who has played Teddy before, said it is a fun role to play.
“It’s bullet-proof,” he said. “It would be hard to mess this up. As long as I don’t fall and knock out my teeth, I am doing OK.”
Copeland is also reprising a role, having played Jonathon with Stagecrafters at the Baldwin Theatre in Royal Oak, and with the Farmington Players Barn Theater, and he said he brings a different interpretation to the role each time.
“It’s an American classic,” he said. “The characters are so genuine, and it is somewhat based on some true events. A lot of people don’t realize that.”
Overwater, a relative newcomer to the show and his role, said he enjoys working at the Guild and with Bruce.
“It’s fun to do something this ridiculous as a character,” he said. “I don’t have as much experience playing these kind of odd characters. I am more experienced playing leading men, which is a little more boring.”
Overwater said he has a lot of physical comedy as Einstein, speaks in an odd character voice, and has a very expressive face, which he has enjoyed.
“The cast is so good, and so easy to work with that funny things just happen very easily,” he said.
Tickets are $18. To order, call 313-561-TKTS or go to playersguildofdearborn.org.