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Sweet, kind, likeable ... and murderous

Trouble is brewing in the Brewster house in this scene from Arsenic and Old Lace, with, from left, Bobby Woods (Jonathan Brewster), Abby Brewster (Karen Silver), Makenzie Hagerman (Dr. Einstein), and Martha Brewster (Janet Johnson). The play continues for the next two weekends.
Trouble is brewing in the Brewster house in this scene from Arsenic and Old Lace, with, from left, Bobby Woods (Jonathan Brewster), Abby Brewster (Karen Silver), Makenzie Hagerman (Dr. Einstein), and Martha Brewster (Janet Johnson). The play continues for the next two weekends. Special to Sierra Star

The Golden Chain Theatre’s latest production - Arsenic and Old Lace - takes place in one ‘very long’ night within the Brooklyn living room of the sweet and polite Brewster sisters - Abby and Martha.

The elderly sisters are well-liked for their numerous acts of charity, but they have a nasty habit of murdering (they call it being merciful) elderly and lonely men who come to their home looking for lodging. Their method of murder? Delicious elderberry wine mixed with arsenic, strychnine and “a pinch of cyanide.”

The casting of Karen Silver as Abby and Janet Johnson as Martha is as close to perfect as you can get. And the same can be said of Yosemite High instructor George Rich as the sister’s nephew, film critic Mortimer Brewster.

It’s Mortimer, possibly the only ‘normal’ member of the family, who instantly becomes hysterical after discovering a body in the window seat while preparing to take his soon-to-be wife and minister’s daughter, Elaine Harper (hysterically played by Amber Holmes) to a play.

What follows is the nonchalant announcement by the sisters that there are 11 more bodies buried in the basement by Mortimer’s brother Teddy (Leonard Brown). The harmless Teddy believes he is President Teddy Roosevelt and lives in the house with his aunts. He believes he is helping his aunts by burying the bodies of those killed by “yellow fever.”

Then there is Mortimer’s murderous, psychotic and brooding brother Jonathan, played by Bobby Woods, to complicate matters. After escaping from an insane asylum, and resembling Frankenstein thanks to plastic surgery from the strange, 4-foot-9-inch Dr. Einstein to throw off the police, the deranged Jonathan shows up at the house with the doctor, who drinks a bit, in tow.

The plot then thickens, to say the least.

Director MaryHelen Mierkey said she’s happy to have Silver and Johnson play the Brewster sisters.

“Each of these women bring a unique set of experience and abilities to their respective roles,” Mierkey said. “The first time I saw them together I knew they were our Abby and Martha.”

The production is directed by MaryHelen Mierkey, who also directed Agatha Christie’s murder mystery The Mousetrap in 2015.

Arsenic and Old Lace, which I call a dark comedy, is a classic show that has been actively produced in theaters for decades,” Mierkey said. “It has an underlying dark side, but the comedy aspects are exceptionally funny, and add enjoyment to the overall experience.”

The play, written by Joseph Kisserling, became an immediate success on Broadway in 1941, and in 1944, Cary Grant starred in the movie version.

The GCT’s 11-member Junior Players sing three songs before the show, including Killing Me Softly.

Details: Arsenic and Old Lace (rated PG), Golden Chain Theatre, 42130 Highway 41, Oakhurst. Fridays and Saturdays 7 p.m. and Sundays 2 p.m., May 5 - May 14 - Tickets, $8 - $15, group rates available. (559) 683-7112, www.goldenchaintheatre.org.

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