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Arsenic and Old Lace debuts at the Mason City Community Theatre on Friday

'Arsenic and Old Lace' cast photo

The cast of the Mason City Community Theatre production of "Arsenic and Old Lace" pose for a photo during a rehearsal ahead of the play's opening.

Front row (L-R): Felicia Irby, Cindy Dahl, Deb Kuehne

Back row (L-R): Matt Holub, George Mortimer, Steve Musson, Alan Steckman, Diane Julius

Dark humor, eccentric family members, and a mystery to solve make up the layers of the new show debuting at the Mason City Community Theatre on Friday.

Playwright Joseph Kesselring’s Arsenic and Old Lace features two aunts who have been poisoning men for years, and the family members around them who are a bit… odd. Through all of the family members’ quirks, audiences watch as they try to figure out a mystery that is presented to them.

Director of the show, Margaret Hutchens, said much of the show is based on a real-life 1800s serial killer, Amy Archer-Gilligan. Archer-Gilligan’s chosen murder weapon of choice was the same as the aunts: poison.

“They think she’s poisoned somewhere between 20 to 100 people, most of them men after she got their money,” said Hutchens. “Many of them were her husbands. They didn’t have much of a long marriage.”

Hutchens explained that Kesselring was going to create a serious interpretation off of Archer-Gilligan but decided to do a dark humor play. She added that he created a competition between the aunts and that they see what they do as “charity.”

Hutchens said with the wide range of humor used in the show, there is a little bit of comedy that will appeal to all audience members.

“There’s a lot of layers of humor, all kinds of humor. There’s dark humor, there’s sight humor, there’s double entendre humor. Then there’s the way it’s delivered that makes it funny,” said Hutchens.

Arsenic and Old Lace is taking the stage starting Friday at 7 p.m., with performances this weekend and next weekend, costing $10 a ticket. Audiences seeing the performance in person will be asked to wear a mask and social distancing measures will be in place.

After auditions took place in early August, the cast and crew of Arsenic and Old Lace went straight into rehearsals. Hutchens said when it came to directing this show, she was drawing inspiration from a previous performance she saw and having the set filled with antiques.

Since it's her first time directing, Hutchens said she really didn’t have any expectations coming into the show. She added the range of seasoned performers with the rookies created an even balance when preparing.

“It’s a mix of people who know what they’re doing. They’ve done this before and brand new people who have no clue, like me,” said Hutchens. “It’s a combination of people with a lot of experience and people trying this for the first time.”

Deb Kuehne, who is now performing in her fourth show, and Cindy Dahl, in her seventeenth, said it felt good getting back into the rhythm of performing since the pandemic had a major effect on theater. 

“I rehearse at home with my husband and my dog and that feels very familiar, walking around the kitchen doing lines and being back in theaters. Really wonderful to be back again,” said Dahl.

“I’ve really missed it, too," said Kuehne. "It’s usually my big social thing that I can get out and work with people. I teach virtually now, so if I didn’t have this, I’d be sitting at my house 24/7. This is a good way to make sure that I am not staying a hermit."

Kuehne is playing Martha Brewster and Dahl is playing Abby Brewster, the two “charitable” aunts of the show. Both don wigs and fake glasses while wearing Victorian style dresses to get into the role of the aunts.

“She and Martha are very charitable older ladies. They live in Brooklyn and take care of their nephew Teddy, who believes himself to be Teddy Roosevelt,” said Dahl. “They’re very kind and generous ladies, maybe a little bit twisted in their charities.”

“Martha is the one who loves to cook and is well versed in all sorts of recipes,” Kuehne said with a mischievous grin.

Hutchens said the overall experience preparing for the show was a delight for her. For her, the highlight has been swapping lines with the cast members and enjoying their own bit of dark humor with each other.

Both Dahl and Kuehne said they are nervous about opening night, but they have their own ways with overcoming the first performance jitters.

“I park at the library behind the bear. I always kind of do things in the same order before I leave,” said Dahl. “I sit in the same spot at the makeup table. Just very routine things and then just keep breathing.”

Hutchens says that people should come on out to the show for a good and relaxing time and enjoy the performance.

“It’s a fun show. You relax and have a good time with it,” said Hutchens.

Abby covers education and public safety for the Globe Gazette. Follow her on Twitter at @MkayAbby. Email her at Abby.Koch@GlobeGazette.com

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