"Arsenic and Old Lace" has been resurrected in a gloriously silly revival at the Harlequin Dinner Playhouse. It's a production that starts off with one foot in reality, then slips into full-speed farce and never looks back as it speeds on its unsubtle, unstable way. Director Richard Vath has staged a version rich in character comedy and reverently faithful to the outrageous tone of Joseph Kesselring's 1941 spoof.
The Brewster family hasn't mellowed a bit over the years: There are still the eccentric Abby and Martha, dedicated to putting lonely old men out of their misery and then burying them in the cellar; their brother Teddy, who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt; their demented nephew Jonathan, on the lam from assorted murder raps, and Jonathan's sniveling sidekick, Dr. Einstein. The one sane cog in this collection of loose screws is their youngest nephew, Mortimer, a drama critic who is blissfully courting the local minister's daughter until he discovers his aunts' little "hobby."
The Harlequin cast is anchored by Cameron Smith as Mortimer, the cocky writer who talks in adjectives. Smith's broad reactions to the insanity sprouting around him immediately establish the tone of what lies ahead. (As he notes despairingly: "Insanity runs in my family; it practically gallops.") Smith does some fine work as the straight man, alternately bewildered, frantic and floored in astonishingly swift turns.