Murder! Mayhem! Madcap fun! This side-splitting comedy broke all East Lynne Theater Company’s box office records in 2018, and returns by popular demand! “It’s hard to imagine a more diverting piece of summer fun than Gayle Stahlhuth’s revival of “Arsenic and Old Lace” at ELTC. It crackles flawlessly,” wrote Terry Teachout in his review for “The Wall Street Journal” last summer. The 1941 comedy by Joseph Kesselring is about two sisters who populate their cellar with “acceptable” lodgers. One of their nephews thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt, another is running away from the law, and the third is a theater critic who just wants to get married.
The original production, produced by the famous playwrighting team of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, ran on Broadway for 1,444 performances, from January 10, 1941 – June 17, 1944. It opened in London in 1942 and ran for 1,337 performances, making it the longest running American play in England at that time. Meanwhile, the world was at war from September 1939 – September 1945. “Arsenic” was also successful in Chile, Argentina, Sweden and Czechoslovakia. The 1944 film, directed by Frank Capra, has become a comedy classic.
Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse started out as actors before they also became known as a comedy writing team, producers, and book “doctors” hired to work on scripts before Broadway openings. In 1946, they received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama with “State of the Union.” But in 1939, their adaptation of Clarence Day’s “Life with Father,” became the first Broadway mega-hit, running for over seven years. (The record stood for 25 years until “Fiddler on the Roof.”) While Lindsay and his wife, Dorothy Stickney, were playing the leads in “Life with Father,” Joseph Kesselring gave his drama based on a true story about an elderly woman in Windsor, CT, to Stickney, thinking she would be perfect for the lead. The play was based on Amy Archer-Gilligan, who took in boarders and poisoned them for their pensions. Stickney, finding the story unique and worthy of a production, after some revisions, handed it over to her husband. Lindsay and Crouse helped Kesselring turn it into a successful comedy.