BART to present local cast in ‘Arsenic & Old Lace’

Date Published: 
April 11, 2014

Special to the Coastal Point • Christina Weaver: Director Rusty Hesse, far left, poses with the cast of ‘Arsenic & Old Lace’ at a recent rehearsal.Special to the Coastal Point • Christina Weaver: Director Rusty Hesse, far left, poses with the cast of ‘Arsenic & Old Lace’ at a recent rehearsal.The Bethany Area Repertory Company (BART) is concluding its 2013-2014 seminal season at the Dickens Parlour Theatre with a perennial favorite, “Arsenic & Old Lace.”

“We selected it because it is different, and funny, and it fits our small stage, yet it has a cast of 14,” said Rusty Hesse, the play’s director and BART board member.

Written 60 years ago by American playwright Joseph Kesselring, “Arsenic & Old Lace” is a dark comedy with slapstick touches. It is about a couple of seemingly sweet old sisters who have a penchant for killing off old men and burying them in the cellar, where their brother, who thinks himself to be Teddy Roosevelt, has conveniently dug locks for the Panama Canal! Thanks to clever writing, the humor remains current, while the setting infuses nostalgia.

Hesse, like several cast members, heard about BART through an article in the Coastal Point.

“We had just moved to Bethany Beach from New York, and I immediately called to volunteer,” said Hesse, a retired Episcopal priest.

He explained that, before going into the seminary, he had a background in musical theater and has subsequently directed more than 60 plays, cabaret shows and musicals in New York and Maryland. As well as his passion for theater, Hesse has had a life-long interest in antiques. This combination has proven useful, as several items of stage furniture have come directly from his home.

The cast includes a wonderful mix of seasoned community theater actors, as well as theater lovers who are making their first leap from audience to stage. Jim Scott, who lives in Cripple Creek, for example, has been involved with several readings of plays written by local award-winning playwright and BART founder Bob Davis. But his role in “Arsenic & Old Lace” will be the first time he has had to memorize a script.

Ruthie Parrimore, a resident of Ocean View, is well known in the area for her performances with Clear Space in Rehoboth and the Candlelight Theatre in Wilmington as well as last year with BART. Bethany Beach-area locals will also associate Parrimore’s name with all that was delicious at Ruthie’s Bethany Bakery. She currently works her magic in the kitchen as pastry chef at Bethany Blues in Lewes.

In “Arsenic & Old Lace,” however, her recipe is distinctly more sinister. She plays Martha Brewster, one of the sisters whose ingredients for murder include “home-made elderberry wine laced with arsenic, strychnine and just a pinch of cyanide.”

Emily Abbott is the speech and theater teacher at Seaford High School and has seen the huge growth in the arts in the area over the years. She plays the feminized role of the shady Dr. Einstein (pronounced Einshtein), which has traditionally always been played by a male actor.

“‘Support the Arts’ is my credo,” said Abbott. She is clearly a role model, as two of her former students, themselves accomplished actors — Carreen Kouts and Robin Marine — also perform in the play.

Crazy brother Teddy Brewster, a.k.a. Teddy Roosevelt, is played by Sunset Harbour’s Jeff Martini.

“I acted a long time ago, but this is my first time in Delaware,” he said. “Rusty is a great director, which makes it easier.”

In order to do his character justice, Martini read a biography about the real President Roosevelt.

“It said he spoke with a gruff but high-pitched accent, so that’s what I’m doing,” he said.

The audience will be reminded of the word “Charge” as the steps out of the theater become San Juan Hill and Martini blows his bugle — more than once.

Also acting for the first time since moving to Dagsboro 12 years ago is Christopher Sampson. His career as a gifted actor in Los Angeles was curtailed by early-onset Parkinson’s disease. Although he has a small part, the courage he shows to face an audience while remembering his words, projecting his voice and keeping his balance is inspiring. It is what community theater is all about.

The Dickens Parlour Theatre is located on Route 26 in Millville. It is owned and operated by magician/entertainer Rich Bloch. The dates for “Arsenic & Old Lace” are April 10,11,12,16, 24, 25 and 26. The doors open at 7 p.m. for a reception and cash bar. Coffee and dessert are served during the intermission and are included in the price of the $30 ticket.

For reservations, call (302) 829-1071 or go to .

Other community theaters can be found in Rehoboth Beach and Georgetown, and Salisbury, Md. But the Bethany Area Repertory Theatre is the only one that is “local” to readers of the Coastal Point, along the Route 26 corridor. Show your support by coming out and enjoying the show. You will also be provided with a sneak-peak of the 2014-2015 schedule and an invitation to become involved. Perhaps you, too, will get the theater bug and start spreading the word.