Home International Kirk Players’ brings classic ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ to stage

Kirk Players’ brings classic ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ to stage


A comedy about murder will be staged in Mundelein.

The Kirk Players present “Arsenic and Old Lace,” written by Joseph Kesselring and directed by Jon Leslie Lynn of Mundelein. It will be staged at 7:30 p.m. June 14-15 and 21-22 and at 2 p.m. June 16 and 23 at Mundelein High School in Mundelein.

Lynn first directed “Arsenic and Old Lace” while he was student teaching in college. It was his first time directing a full-length play, having only directed “scenes and chunks of plays” with his dad’s group, the Kirk Players, in summer workshops, he said.

“Arsenic and Old Lace” is the story of the Brewster sisters, who live in Brooklyn, New York, in 1941.

“They are famous (sisters); everyone knows them for their kindness,” he said. “They’re known for their amazing levels of charity work.”

They also very kindly share their homemade elderberry wine (which happens to be laced with arsenic) with lonely old men.

One of their nephews, Teddy, believes without a doubt that he is Teddy Roosevelt. The sisters trick him into burying the bodies of the victims in the basement by telling him he’s digging a lock for the Panama Canal.

Their two other nephews include Mortimer, a drama critic who is in love with the pastor’s daughter and next-door neighbor Elaine; and Jonathan, a criminal on the run from the cops who has just escaped from an insane asylum. Jonathan has an evil sidekick, plastic surgeon Dr. Einstein, who has changed Jonathan’s appearance to avoid being recognized by the police.

“Unfortunately, Dr. Einstein drinks a little bit and he saw a scary Boris Karloff movie before he operated and several characters remark that Jonathan looks just like Boris Karloff, which angers him greatly,” Lynn said.

He’s not changing much of the play, choosing to keep it set in 1941 as was written.

“I didn’t think modernizing it would be a good thing at all,” he said. “You’d have them using cell phones instead of old rotary phones and it just didn’t work for me at all. We do have a female cop in the cast, which they would not have had in 1941.”

One problem he is running into is that there are a few references to people who were famous in 1941 who aren’t known by modern audiences, he said. Some people may not know who Boris Karloff is, he said. There’s another reference to actress Judith Anderson.

“Judith Anderson was a major star in 1940, but how many people are going to know the reference in 2024?” he said. “It all centers on Mortimer learning about their little activity and trying to protect them by blaming it on Teddy. The Brewsters have a long history of mental illness.”

The play is “just dang funny,” he said, which audiences will love.

“There are so many comic bits and I’ve tried to amplify some of the reactions of the characters so they’d be received as comic,” he said. “There are great characters. I can’t tell you what a wonderful thing it is every night to watch our two sisters, Abby and Martha. They are so great together. And the two bad guys, Jonathan and Dr. Einstein, are doing a remarkably good job. Everybody is doing such a good job. It’s just a very funny script.”

Most of the people Lynn has talked to about the play recognize the title as the 1944 movie that starred Cary Grant and Peter Lorre and other big names of the time, he said.

“It was a terrible movie version. It was so far from the script,” he said.

He hopes that people disillusioned by the movie take a chance on the play.

“Everybody needs to laugh. Everybody needs the comedy,” he said.

Annie Alleman is a freelance reporter for the News-Sun.

‘Arsenic and Old Lace’

When: 7:30 p.m. June 14-15 and 21-22 and 2 p.m. June 16 and 23

Where: Mundelein High School, 1350 W. Hawley St., Mundelein

Tickets: $10-$20

Information: 847-521-6192; kirkplayers.org

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