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  • Rick Bergmann

UpStage Artists Kicks Off 2023 With A Comedy Classic, Arsenic and Old Lace!

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

Jenn Robinson (left) as Abby Brewster and Beltsville Resident Susie Mendolsohn (right) as Dr. Harper rehearse a scene from UpStage Artists production of Arsenic and Old Lace opening February 17.

After a very successful 2022 season and a much-deserved break, UpStage Artists is back to kick off 2023 with one of the most popular comedies of all time, Arsenic and Old Lace! The show opened on Broadway on January 10, 1941, and played for 1,444 performances before ending its initial run. The review for the play on opening night in the New York Times said it was “so funny that none of us will ever forget it.” It starred Boris Karloff as the villain, Jonathan Brewster, who keeps getting mistaken for Boris Karloff in the play.

The play is a black comedy about the Brewster family, descended from the Mayflower settlers but now comprised of maniacs, most of them homicidal. The play begins when drama critic Mortimer Brewster’s engagement announcement takes a back seat because he discovers a corpse in his elderly aunts’ (Abby and Martha) window seat. Mortimer rushes to tell Abby and Martha before they stumble upon the body themselves, only to learn that the two old women aren’t just aware of the dead man in their parlor; they killed him! Between his aunts’ penchant for poisoning wine, a brother who thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt, and another brother using plastic surgery to hide from the police—not to mention Mortimer’s hesitancy about marriage—it’ll be a miracle if Mortimer makes it to his wedding. Arsenic and Old Lace is a classic black comedy about the only thing more deadly than poison: family.”

The play’s popularity meant Hollywood would come knocking, and it did. Arsenic and Old Lace was turned into a highly successful movie starring Cary Grant and directed by Frank Capra. Many of the cast of the Broadway show reprised their roles for the movie, but one star did not. Boris Karloff wanted to do the film along with his castmates, but the producers of the show were worried that allowing Karloff time off from the show to shoot the movie would hurt their box office since he was the biggest draw in the cast. So, much to the dismay of Karloff, they wouldn’t let him out of his contract.

UpStage is excited to bring this show to Emmanuel. The actors are filled with old and new faces, including Beltsville resident Suzie Mendolsohn, who will star as Dr. Rev. Harper and Lieutenant Rooney. Rick Bergmann directs the show. One of the wonderful things UpStage can do this time is that they have a special performance for the residents of Riderwood. The performance for them is free and will include a question-and-answer session with the cast after the show. UpStage is 100% about the community aspect of community theater, which is their way of giving back. They can do this because of the generosity of Emmanuel.

Arsenic and Old Lace show dates are February 17, 18, 24, and 25 at 7:30 pm and February 19 and 26 at 2 pm. Tickets are only $10.00 (cheaper than a movie). Emmanuel United Methodist Church is 11416 Cedar Lane, Beltsville, MD 20705. You can buy tickets at So come on out and join UpStage for an evening of laughs with Arsenic and Old Lace!

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