Finding Peace With Poison

PHS drama department presents ‘Arsenic and Old Lace'


Sisters Martha and Abby Brewster are helping lonely old men find peace -- with arsenic.

The leading ladies will be played by not usual two, but four drama students in Payson High School's presentation of "Arsenic and Old Lace."


Officer Brophy, played by Sabrina Brahm, and Mrs. Harper, played by Makayla Cabello, wonder what the Brewster sisters are up to in the comedy "Arsenic and Old Lace," presented by the Payson High School drama department.

"I've always wanted to try double casting, and this year there are five men and 16 women in the advanced acting class so we decided to try something different," said drama teacher, Kathy Siler.

What this means is that there are two casts for the play and each cast will play two of the four performances.

All of the female characters have been double cast and a number of the male roles, such as policemen, are now played by women.

Written by Joseph Kesserling, "Arsenic and Old Lace" opened on Broadway in August 1941. (The movie opened in 1944).

To explain the lack of men for this high school production, the time has been changed to April of 1942 after World War II.

For the male actors, even though the physical movement of the play is blocked the same way, the double rehearsals can be tiring.

"It's a lot of fun, but it's different because each pair of sisters do things a little differently and sound a little bit different and the girls get half as much rehearsal time on stage," said Jonathan Gartner, who plays Mortimer Brewster, the male lead. For his first lead role he must fast forward only a decade or so increase in age to get into character.

Heather Horsley and Amanda Thompson, who play Abby Brewster, and Heidi Haworth and Shay Larby, who play Martha Brewster, must imagine life lived in a body a half a century older.

Haworth and Horsley play one pair of sisters. Thompson and Larby play the other pair.

"Mrs. Siler had us put bolts in our shoes, carry around weights and put four lemon drops in our mouths," Haworth said.

"It was just for training, we aren't using the bolts or anything now," Horsley said.

"I've looked at Shay and Heather and how they developed their roles, then thrown in my own character traits," Thompson said.

Getting into character also requires a certain voice.

For that, Thompson has tried a bit of an accent.

"This is my first lead and it is very exciting," Larby said. "For this part, I have to be subtle. You can't just be sarcastic -- come out and say, ‘Oh yes, there's bodies in the cellar'."

Larby has played cranky old ladies, but now she is a happy old lady and that means she has to make sure she always sounds "happy and chipper."

"The natural instinct is to raise your voice. So, I am ending my sentences on a low note to make it a little more authentic," she said.

PHS Drama Department "Arsenic and Old Lace"

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20; 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21; 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 22; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 23

Where: Payson High School Auditorium

Cost: $4 adults; $3 students and seniors; $2 Longhorn Pride card holders

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