Just a Pinch of Cyanide

by Peter Farrugia

Photo by Jacob Sammut

Premiering on Broadway in 1941, Arsenic and Old Lace is finally playing to a Maltese audience at the Manoel Theatre under the direction of Josette Ciappara. With whimsical touches, she’s managed to find a balance between expectations brought on by the popular film (starring Cary Grant and Boris Karloff) and some zany innovations of her own.
The story centers on two sisters, Martha and Abigail Brewster (Marylu Coppini and Polly March), who have found a calling to “release” old men from lonely and solitary lives by offering them lodgings, and then disposing of the poor souls with a glass of arsenic-laced elderberry wine.

They live with their muddled nephew Teddy (played by a boisterous Colin Fitz), who’s convinced that he’s Theodore Roosevelt – and is propped up in the delusion by his relatives and neighbours. Fitz attacked the role with gusto, perhaps playing it so close to the film version that it came across a little too much like the reflection of a reflection – a cardboard character that, in a cardboard world of wacky strangeness, didn’t so much seem out of place as a little lacklustre.
The aunt’s favourite nephew is Mortimer (Edward Mercieca), a dandy theater critic and the only “sane” member of the Brewster clan (though you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s as nuts as the rest of them). Edward Mercieca, as usual, turns in a creditable performance although his energy is likely to wear an audience down with all his bounding and bellowing.

To offset this, March and Coppini’s able turn as the two gentle poisoners is required to keep the show on an even keel. They’re delightful in their roles and sit at the heart of the performance.
The third nephew, evil Jonathan, was played to good effect by Joe Depasquale. His tittering, neurotic psychopath routine actually brought something new to the role. It wasn’t Karloff’s detached, authoritarian evil but something altogether more strange. Depasquale made the character a twisted sort of schoolboy, combining charm and menace to good effect. It was certainly the most original characterization in the show.
Mortimer is engaged to marry Elaine Harper (Kate de Cesare) the beautiful daughter of a prissy old reverend (well played by Chris Hudson, it’s a shame he wasn’t in it for longer). De Cesare spent most of the play fretting about the stage, wringing her hands and shrieking – she did all of that very well, and was funniest when confronted by the wicked Jonathan. However the chemistry between Mortimer and his fiancee never really gelled, and (as the romantic fulcrum of the story) that presented a few problems.
When Jonathan gate-crashes the Brewster home, in desperate need of a hide out, he’s accompanied by his trusty plastic surgeon Dr Einstein (Renato Dimech, who did an excellent job of it) – the two actors worked together seamlessly and their antics on stage were amongst the funniest. It’s interesting to note that the play contained a lot of its best moments when parallel characters were on stage – the Brewster spinsters, Jonathan and his doctor, the film critic (Mercieca) and an aspiring playwright (Colin Willis as Officer O’Hara).
There were several other policemen, whose attempts at American accents were by turns hilarious and cringe-worthy – Steve Hili pulled it off with some aplomb, and the kind of “you dirty rat” diction that would make James Cagney blush.
MADC have pulled off a tight and funny performance, with able actors and a darkly funny script. Perhaps a lot of the Roosevelt gags fall flat, the buttoned- Victorian aunts are a parody of themselves, the world has changed and Arsenic and Old Lace is an artifact, with laughs at the period’s mores as much as the black comedy.

Still, audiences can be sure of an entertaining night out, revisiting a film many of us remember as one of Hollywood’s kookiest productions. Enjoy!


Schlock’s Blogs

This week's blogs are overrun by animals. But rest assured, none were harmed.

This week has been great fun for Schlock. As you hopefully know, our writers tried their hand (we sincerely hope it wasn’t just the one though) at erotica. The resulting collection of strange and sexy flash fiction pieces will be collated in a post tomorrow.

Meanwhile, we hope you enjoy what they came up with after returning to the mundane world.

Noel, however, insisted on staying in the bedroom. He harps on about dirty deeds done dirt cheap in a film about a film.

Annette satisfied the beast inside her but also ventured out: though her visit to the zoo elicited a strange mix of emotions.

Teodor, safely ensconced in the confines of a cinema, experiences a different kind of ecstasy… which he never thought he could get out of a 3D animated film about a hapless chameleon.


Schlock’s Blogs

The clocks have moved forward, which means the brighter seasons are close. So if you’re blessed to be in a country that has graced you with generous dollops of sunshine throughout the day, we hope that you’ve been out enjoying its fresh rays or, failing that, that you’ve been taking advantage of the season’s many associations to fertility and so forth (we know we will next week, as Schlock indulges in some erotica…)

Whatever you’ve been up to, we’re here now to see you to bed.

Teodor, in fact, expands on an often unexpanded upon leisurely activity…

… while Noel rips straight into a review of the (some-most?-would say) misguided remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre…

… only for Annette to take us back into more pleasant realms of human behaviour with a piece about that rare, fleeting but oh-so-desirable feeling: FLOW.

We hope to have left you suitably refreshed. And we do apologise for the lateness of the hour… if we said we moved our clocks a few hours ahead instead of one, would you believe us?

Schlock’s Blogs

There are damn few things that piss off an author more than writer’s block. Even if the writing in question is but a damn short introduction to a series of links to blogs. This is when one appreciates what a damn good thing the internet is because you can google up a  quote damn quickly, and hey presto, the job is done:

Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very;” your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. – Mark Twain

Teodor makes a case with some damn sweet talk about his latest crush, Mr Henry James.

Annette wrote about W B Yeats, an  Irish nationalist activist and politician who wrote damn good poetry.

And Noel waxes lyrical about what a damn good film Darren Aronofsky’s The Black Swan is.

Thank you damn much.

Schlock’s Blogs

If in the beginning there was the internet, rest assured that the Almighty would have spent that one day of rest browsing blogs. Therefore you could do a lot worse than going through our latest selection of blog posts, and that is a fact.

(Incidentally, it is also a fact that last week Schlock released the first quarterly for 2011, aka The Prehistory Issue.)

After a week's hard work, it's time to be lazing on a Sunday afternoon.

Annette loves it when TV series break out in song. And who doesn’t? It’s a flight of fantasy within a flight of fantasy, and when this involves a warrior princess and a vampire slayer… really, need I say more?

Noel revisits a classic Clouseau caper from 1975, a year that saw a lot of great movies being made and great men being born.

Fashion editor Sarah indulges in her job as if it were a nice distraction – some have all the luck, don’t they?

Enjoy, feel free to comment and remember Schlock’s new schedule: new content up every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with another blog each Sunday!

Schlock’s Blogs

Welcome to another installment of Schlock’s Blogs! This week’s topics include academic revamps, new blog formats and plenty of comic book madness. Remember to subscribe to your favourite blogs and expect Schlock Magazine’s latest quarterly issue – out soon.

another dose of Schlock's Blogs on Sunday... what more could you wish for?

Teodor begins to cannibalise his own research, in a new blog series.

Exploring the Bad Science Blog, Annette tackles a chapter that Bob Goldacre posted about Matthias Rath.

Meanwhile Marco‘s weekend involved sex, violence, history and robots. Too bad it was only his current comic book reading.

Schlock’s Blogs

The true face of evil? Discuss.

Villains are just as, if not more, attractive than heroes. This week’s bloggers indulge that impulse with gusto.

Annette takes a wide sweep, taking a look at the different kind of villains out there.

Teodor (finally) plunges into Werner Herzog’s heart of darkness…

…while Noel keeps it light with a review of Dreamworks’ latest reverse-superhero bonanza.

Finally, Marco takes a sunnier route, and tackles Summer Wars, where anime tackles Summer. And Wars of some kind.

Good, bad, or positively villainous, please be sure to give us your feedback… and we’ll see you all next week!