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- Arsenic And Old Lace Summary. Arsenic and Old Lace begins in the living room of the Brewster family home, which is inhabited by Abby and Martha, spinster aunts who care for their nephew Teddy. In the play’s first moments, they meet with Reverend Dr. Harper, who mentions their other nephew, Mortimer.
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Arsenic and Old Lace is a black comedy play by American playwright Joseph Kesselring, written in 1939. Debuting on Broadway in 1941, it ran for three years and over fourteen hundred performances. The plot centers on the Brewster family, a once elite American bloodline that has now descended into homicidal insanity.
Summary. Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1868. Arsenic and Old Lace takes place entirely in the Brewster home in Brooklyn, New York, in 1941. As the play opens, Abby ...
A writer of books on the futility of marriage risks his reputation when he decides to get married. Things get even more complicated when he learns on his wedding day that his beloved maiden aunts are habitual murderers. Mortimer Brewster is a newspaperman and author known for his diatribes against marriage.
Arsenic and Old Lace is a play by American playwright Joseph Kesselring, written in 1939. It has become best known through the subsequent film adaptation starring Cary Grant and directed by Frank Capra. The play was directed by Bretaigne Windust, and opened on Broadway at the Fulton Theatre on January 10, 1941.
Arsenic and Old Lace full plot summary including detailed synopsis and summaries for each scene. Join StageAgent today and unlock amazing theatre resources and opportunities. Learn
- Author Biography
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- Historical Context
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In 1941, New Yorkers were looking for some entertainment to take their minds off of the war in Europe and the growing fear that America would be pulled into it. On January 10, Broadway gave them exactly what they were looking for in the form of a hilarious new play by Joseph Kesselring, Arsenic and Old Lace. The play became an immediate critical and popular success, running for 1,444 performances. It also became a hit in England in 1942 as theatergoers who were suffering through post-blitz London lined up for tickets. In 1944, Hollywood produced a film version staring Cary Grantthat became a huge box office success. The play, a clever combination of the farcical and the macabre, centers on two elderly sisters who are famous in their Brooklyn neighborhood for their numerous acts of charity. Unfortunately, however, their charity includes poisoning lonely old men who come to their home looking for lodging. The two women are assisted in their crimes by their mentally challenged nephew w...
Joseph Kesselring was born on June 21, 1902, in New York City, to Henry and Frances Kesselring. From 1922 to 1924 he taught music and directed student productions at Bethel College in Newton, Kansas. He turned to acting, producing, and writing from 1925 until 1933, when his first play, Addie Appleby, Maker of Men, a domestic comedy, was produced. His second play There's Wisdom in Women, produced in 1935, gained some attention but he would not experience real success until Arsenic and Old Lacehit Broadway in 1941. Kesselring continued his playwriting career until 1963, but his later plays never earned him the same popular and critical acclaim. He continued writing dramas and short stories until his death on November 5, 1967. Kesselring won further accolades for his screenplay of Arsenic and Old Lace, which became a commercial and critical success. The play continues to be a favorite production in amateur and community theater revivals.
Arsenic and Old Lace takes place entirely in the Brewster home in Brooklyn, New York, in 1941. As the play opens, Abby Brewster, a sweet, elderly woman is pouring tea for her nephew Teddy and Dr. Harper, a local minister. All note how peaceful the house is, far removed from the war in Europe. They discuss their nephew Mortimer, a theater critic, and his relationship with the minister's daughter Elaine. Two neighborhood policemen, Brophy and Klein, arrive to pick up toys for the local Christma...
After dinner, the aunts renew their efforts to get Jonathan to leave, but he warns them how "disagreeable" he had been as a child and that "it wouldn't be pleasant for any of [them]" if they tried to prevent him from staying. He informs the aunts of his plans for his grandfather's laboratory, which they immediately reject. They do agree, however, to let him stay for the night. During this conversation, Einstein has gone with Teddy down into the basement to "inspect the locks in Panama." When...
Later that night, as Jonathan and Einstein are burying Mr. Spenalzo with Mr. Hoskins in the cellar, Mortimer arrives with a doctor's signature on Teddy's commitment papers. He explains to the aunts that he can protect them only if he lets Teddy take the blame for the murders. They threaten to go to the police if Mortimer does not find a way to get rid of Jonathan in the morning. Jonathan tells Einstein to get his medical instruments as he plans Mortimer's slow, painful death. After they bind...
Abby and her sister Martha have interchangeable personalities in the play. Neither exhibits distinct characteristics that are identifiable as separate from the other. Abby, like her sister Martha, is old-fashioned in an ironic sense. She appears to be a quite conservative elderly woman who values the conventions of the past. She attends church regularly and donates toys to the local Christian fund. Her traditional values, however, do not extend to her treatment of the elderly men who come to...
Jonathan is a vicious criminal with a penchant for torture. Not much background information is given on him other than the details provided by Mortimer that he was "the kind of boy who liked to cut worms in two—with his teeth." He has no consideration for his aunts as he plots to turn their home into a surgery for criminals who need to alter their appearance. When Mortimer threatens to interfere, he plans on causing a slow, painful death for his brother. His pettiness surfaces when he becomes...
Martha is as ironically old fashioned as her sister. She exhibits kindness and compassion with the neighbors and follows social conventions of behavior. For example, when Mortimer breaks tradition and asks Elaine to meet him at the Brewster's instead of calling for her at her home, she criticizes him for his lack of chivalry. She also condemns the theater for its provocative subject matter and popular films that frighten their audiences. Like Abby, Martha's charity is limited by the macabre n...
Kesselring collaborated on a successful Hollywood screen version of the play, directed by Frank Capra in 1944. The film starred Cary Grantas Mortimer, with Josephine Hull and Jean Adair recreating...
The theme of charity is satirized in the play. The Brewster sisters appear to be quite altruistic, providing help when needed for their neighbors as well as opening their door to strangers. They make soup for the sick, serve tea and cakes for the preacher and police officers, collect toys for needy children, and provide lodging for lonely old men. They must be the right kind of men though. The sisters have their own rules about how far their charity will extend. They do not, for example, want...
The audience, along with Mortimer, soon learns that the sisters are as insane as the obviously deranged Teddy, who thinks that he is Teddy Roosevelt and so continually blows a bugle and charges up the staircase as if it were San JuanHill. Because the sisters do not display such obvious outward signs, no one in the neighborhood believes Jonathan's claims that there are twelve bodies buried in the basement. Mortimer also has difficulty believing that his aunts were responsible for the body in t...Some scholars suggest that Kesselring wrote the play as a thriller and then was prompted to turn it into a farce. Would the play work as a thriller? Propose a general outline of the play as a thril...Compare and contrast the Broadway hit Sweeney Todd, another play in the comic/thriller genre, with Arsenic and Old Lace.Research the treatment of the mentally ill in America in the 1930s and 1940s. Were there "Happy Dales" then that provided comfortable living arrangements for those like Teddy and the Brewster sisters?Investigate the accepted theories on biological determinism during the 1930s and 1940s. Discuss the debate over nature versus nurture during this period.
Farce and Melodrama
Kesselring departs from dramatic tradition in his combination of farce and melodrama. Elizabethan tragedy contain scenes that provided audiences with comic relief, but they were not part of the main action of the play. Joseph Wood Krutch, in his review of the play for the Nation, notes that Elizabethan tragedies rarely "confuse[d] the comic and the tragic, since the comic characters and the tragic ones were kept separate and we were supposed to stop laughing when the porter went off and Macbe...
The world experienced a decade of aggression in the 1930s that would culminate in World War II. World War II resulted from the rise of totalitarian regimes in Germany, Italy, and Japan. These militaristic regimes gained control as a result of the Great Depression experienced by most of the world in the early 1930s and from the conditions created by the peace settlements following World War I. The dictatorships established in each country encouraged expansion into neighboring countries. In Ger...
Theater in the 1930s and 1940s
In the late nineteenth century playwrights such as Henrik Ibsenturned away from what they considered the artificiality of melodrama to a focus on the commonplace in the context of everyday contemporary life. Their work, along with much of the experimental fiction written during that period, adopts the tenets of Realism, a new literary movement that took a serious look at believable characters and their sometimes problematic interactions with society. Dramatists who embraced Realism use settin...1941: On December 7, Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, and the United States enters World War II. Today:The United States is engaged in a war in Iraq that is not supported by many countries around the wo...1941: On December 11, four days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Germany, along with Italy, declares war on the United States. Today: The world is threatened by Islamic fundamentalist groups that...1941: Arsenic and Old Lace begins its 1,444 performance run. Audiences herald the play's successful mixture of farce and melodrama. Today: Films that spoof the thriller genre, like Scream,have gain...
View Summary of arsenic and old lace from ENGLISH MISC at College Park High. Daria Kozinitskaya It’s Wednesday, November 13, 2019. Per. 1 Summary of Arsenic & Old Lace. The year is 1941. The
May 08, 2021 · ARSENIC AND OLD LACE IN THE CLASSICAL CONTEXT. Though it is not a quintessential piece studied in the Classical context, Arsenic and Old Lace is a classic play that has been performed all over the world since 1941. And though the play is a farcical comedy, the play is also full of vices and lessons to be learned from.
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