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Sandy Journal

Sandy Arts Guild presents 'Arsenic and Old Lace' at Mt. Jordan Middle

Jan 23, 2020 02:48PM ● By Heather Lawrence

Actors Sallie Cooper, Eric Geels and Michelle Groves make up the happy trio of Mortimer and his aunts in “Arsenic and Old Lace.” (Heather Lawrence/City Journals)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

Sandy Arts Guild’s winter play is the beloved black comedy “Arsenic and Old Lace.” Though the play was written 70 years ago, the actors and crew say the characters are fresh, the pace fast. And the show? Another quality Sandy production.  

“One of the challenges of this play for the actors is its frantic energy! We bring all these crazy characters together, we’ve got this rapid-fire 1940s dialogue, and we take the audience along for the ride,” said Lindsay Higbee.

Higbee has been in other Sandy Arts Guild productions. She plays Elaine Harper, the next-door neighbor of the Brewster sisters, and the fiancée of their nephew, Mortimer. 

Higbee said though she’s worked in community theater around the valley, working on a Sandy production is always a treat. 

“I keep coming back to Sandy. It’s professional, positive, uplifting. Where there might be a lot of competition in other companies, in Sandy it’s always a team effort,” Higbee said. 

Director David Hanson has some theories on why Sandy is so good. “I love working with the different casts in Sandy. There is a lot of talent. I love the regulars who come back time and again for shows, and I love to see new people,” Hanson said. 

“The casts in Sandy treat each other so well. This is a community theater, so we all have day jobs. We pour our heart and soul into these productions,” Hanson said. 

Hanson kept his cool as director even when a major cast member had an accident and needed to be replaced at the last minute. “We had to replace the actor after we’d done weeks of rehearsal. The replacement has been with us for just a week. And of course, he’s the first one to be completely memorized,” Hanson said. 

Andrew Lambert is excited he gets to play the villain, criminal Jonathan Brewster, in this production. He last played Gomez in Sandy’s “Addams Family.” “I played Teddy in my high school production at Hillcrest. I love this show! But I’ve always wanted to play Jonathan,” Lambert said. 

Teddy, Jonathan and Mortimer are the three Brewster brothers. Their aunts Abby and Martha own the family home they’ve all grown up in. Abby and Martha, or “the aunts,” are pillars of the community. 

“But Jonathan is on the run from the law. He’s altered his appearance, and now people say that he looks like actor Boris Karloff from the old monster movies. That makes him mad and triggers him whenever it’s mentioned,” Lambert said. 

The Boris Karloff joke is an inside one. Karloff originated the role of Jonathan in the stage play. 

But Jonathan is not the only criminal in the play. Who would suspect the kind, old aunts of anything sinister? It’s the perfect cover, as they do have a murderous secret to hide. Many people come into the Brewsters’ house in Brooklyn, but not all of them come out alive. 

Teddy is the comic relief. He lives in the house and is cared for by his aunts. He believes he is Teddy Roosevelt. Wackiness ensues. 

The last brother, Mortimer, is played by Eric Geels. A veteran of Salt Lake Valley theater, this is Geels’ first production with Sandy. 

“Mortimer’s character is really in a dilemma. He has a lot of things to balance. His engagement to Elaine, his job as a drama critic and his love for his aunts,” Geels said. 

“Mortimer doesn’t want his aunts to get caught; he wants to protect them. So it presents the audience with some legal and moral questions: what is good? What is right? The aunts think they are doing a good thing,” Geels said. 

To cast the aunts, Hanson knew he had to find two women who by the end of the production could be finishing each other’s sentences. He found Sallie Cooper and Michelle Groves, both of whom have been doing theater for most of their lives. 

“These women have never left home. They inherited this house from their grandfather, and they take care of their nephews. They love to help and serve their neighbors. But now they’ve found an interesting way to help old, lonely men — help them find eternal peace,” Groves said. 

“I’ve known [Groves’s] husband for many years, but this is the first time I’ve met or worked with her. Then a couple weeks ago we had this off-stage moment where we were watching rehearsal and both said the same thing at the same time. It’s just like these sisters, who are very close,” Cooper said. 

Both women love these great female roles. “These are primo parts! It’s not common to get a role this juicy in this age group,” Groves said. 

It’s a plus that Groves’s husband is also in the play. “We saw this audition pop up and said, ‘We have to do this.’ So now we have this one little scene where we’re on stage together. It’s really fun,” Groves said. 

Cooper, who used to teach and ran a theater in Springdale, said that though this is her first time working with Sandy Arts Guild, it’s been a great experience. “They know what they’re doing. Everyone is so talented. I’m especially impressed with the amazing scene artists. Come to the show — you’re going to love it!” 

“Arsenic and Old Lace” plays at the Mount Jordan Middle School Theatre on Friday and Saturday nights, Jan. 31, Feb. 1, 7, 8, 14 and 15. All shows start at 7:30. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for youth up to 18 and seniors over 65. Tickets are available by calling 801-568-6097 or through a SmithTix link on Sandy’s website. 

“Theater brings the community together. It’s important. It enriches the community. The audience is going to love watching these crazy, endearing, terrifying characters,” Geels said.