Just some sweet little old (murderous) ladies

Debbie Champken is Miss Abby and Leslie Sanchez is Miss Martha — sweet little old lady murderers on the Mercury Players production of Arsenic and Old Lace. - Andrew Leong
Debbie Champken is Miss Abby and Leslie Sanchez is Miss Martha — sweet little old lady murderers on the Mercury Players production of Arsenic and Old Lace.
— image credit: Andrew Leong

Murder is not usually a funny subject.

But audiences should expect to be in stitches when they see Arsenic and Old Lace at the Mercury Theatre in Duncan.

The play follows two charitable elderly sisters, who have taken it upon themselves to relieve lonely old men of their burdens — mainly their lives.

What ensues is a hilarious re-interpretation of what it means to commit murder.

“Their charities have developed into putting old men out of their misery with a glass of wine that is laced with arsenic. They think of it as a charity and not as killing someone. They are sweet and innocent and the story starts out with that” said director Maria Ridewood.

The play might not have a moral underpinning or even an overall feel-good message, but Ridewood says it is a guilty pleasure.

“I don’t think there is a hidden message and I haven’t found one after studying the script. It’s just entertainment and a laugh. A chance to see amateur actors put on a play.” Ridewood said.

Finding the right people to play each part is always a big challenge for the director. But Ridewood figures she picked the right people because the cast has a great dynamic that translates into their performance.

“Casting is always difficult. If you get the right person in the right role your job is easy and I nailed the cast,” she said.

“They definitely look like they’ve know each other forever, but they only met on the first day.”

Theatre is more than just performance. For Ridewood, it is an important component to the area and it would be a crime to have empty seats in the audience.

“The audience is part of the bigger theater community. I think arts and entertainment culture is a big part of who we are as a community and human beings. The theatre adds something, without texture in our lives, life would be boring.”

The cast and crew are looking forward to opening night but getting there hasn’t been easy. But it is the love for the theatre that kept them practicing three or four times a week.

“When you get past 50 and you can’t quite memorize like when you were 30, which is a big challenge,” said Deb Champkin, who plays Abby, one of the old ladies.

“As far as the role goes, it’s one that is so easy because she is very comical and she is a delight to play.”

This leading lady didn’t mind doing hard time because for Champkin, acting is more than a hobby.

“I think when it’s your passion, which acting is for me, there’s nothing you don’t enjoy. Plays are fun and enjoyable and everyone’s great and has a sense of good humor …there is nothing I don’t like.”

For both Ridewood and Champkin, the performance is all about the audience and keeping them entertained.

“I thrive off the energy and laughter of the audience, every night is different but you just have to flow with it. There are some real characters in this show I don’t know if you can identify with them or not but its entertaining.” Champkin said.


Your ticket

What: Arsenic and Old Lace

When: 7:30 p.m., Nov. 15, 16, 22, 23 and 24, with a 2 p.m. matinee, Nov. 17.

Where: Mercury Theatre in Duncan.

Tickets: $20, $15 students and seniors from Volume One books and at the door.

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