Beware of the charitable Brewster sisters

D-DHS presents “Arsenic and Old Lace” beginning Nov. 16; Nov. 17 show interpreted in American Sign Language

By Donna Lenz Wright/The Week

(Published Nov. 15, 2006, 10:38 a.m.)


This year's cast for the Delavan-Darien High School fall play is nearly all upperclassmen, a unique situation that seemed to beg Janet Palmer and Kerry Butitta, co-director/producers, to choose a classic like "Arsenic and Old Lace."

"It's a classic piece of theater and our students need exposure to that," Kerry Butitta said. "It's also a three-act play, which our cast hasn't performed before. And the characters are all mature, with several being elderly, which can be more of a stretch for our high school thespians."

Even with all of these technical aspects of theater present, the cast and crew are having a ball with the hysterical story of the two sweet, thoughtful and kind old ladies, Martha and Abby Brewster, who have developed a very bad habit - they murder lonely old men as one of their charities.

The sisters live in Brooklyn in 1941, and their only family members are three nephews - Mortimer, Jonathan and Teddy.

"Mortimer is a dramatic critic that spends his nights at the theater with his fiancée, Elaine, and ends up bringing a little too much of the drama from his job home with him," said Mike Danovich, who portrays him.

Danovich says Mortimer is a lot like him in that he's constantly at the theater. "And like him; I panic when I worry and we both get sidetracked easily," he adds.

Mortimer is engaged to Elaine Harper, a theater critic and the minister's daughter.

"She is a smart girl with a lot of spunk. I'd like to think I have that spunk as well," said Stephanie Drymalski, who portrays her.

Dane Palmer plays Teddy, "who thinks he is President Theodore Roosevelt," Palmer describes. "He blows his bugle for cabinet meetings and digs locks (graves) for the canal in Panama (the sisters' basement)."

"Jonathan is a serial killer who bears a strong resemblance to Boris Karloff," said Vincent Butitta, who plays him. Jonathan hasn't visited the sisters in years, and when he arrives, he has his friend, Dr. Einstein, an alcoholic plastic surgeon, with him, played by Jeff Sacco.

"None of the nephews are aware of their aunts' murderous activities," Kerry Butitta says. "Confusion begins when Jonathan and Dr. Einstein show up with a dead body of their own which they try to hide."

That's when Mortimer discovers what his aunts have been doing and he tries to protect them. Then Jonathan discovers the secret, but he has other ideas.
The students are enjoying relating to the eccentricities of the characters, Kerry Butitta said.

"They find different perspectives of the same situation to be interesting. They are also enjoying developing their characters because they are so different from themselves."

D-DHS Thespians
While creating a theatrical performance is hard work and a lot of fun, there is much more to it, according to the D-DHS Thespians.

"They develop creative thinking skills, leadership and followship," Kerry Butitta said, adding that she knows followship isn't a word, but that it should be "because not everyone can be a leader all the time.

"Another crucial aspect of theater is time management," she adds. "We have cast members participating in fall sports, holding down jobs, active in their churches, performing with community and college music ensembles and enrolled in advanced level high school and college courses, with many maintaining high honors standing."

But when you ask them, they don't complain about the heavy load. All they can do is describe what's so great about theater.

"Theater gives me a chance to get out of my normal self, and I like performing in front of an audience," said Danovich. "I'm enjoying ("Arsenic and Old Lace") because everyone has a little quirk to their character."

"I enjoy getting up on stage in front of all of my peers and making a complete idiot of myself without any concern of what they may think of me," Palmer said. "There are so many funny lines. The small humor carries the show."

The students had other areas to praise than just the stage that makes their experience so enjoyable, including the leaders, the camaraderie, the cast and the crew.

"Theater is an art that very few experience and even fewer master," Vincent Butitta said. "We have such wonderful leadership and support here at Delavan, it would be a waste not to use this opportunity to practice this art and learn from the directors and producers."

"There's something about being in the middle of a performance and knowing all your hard work has come to make it all work," said Drymalski. "This cast has been amazing to work with and I've had lots of fun just being in rehearsals, so I'm sure the performances will be even better."
"When everyone is on the same page, we really know how to shine," said Danovich.

"Arsenic and Old Lace" runs Nov. 17-18 at 7 p.m. (the Nov. 17 show will be interpreted in American Sign Language) and Nov. 19 at 2 p.m. at the Delavan-Darien High School. Tickets are $3 for students and seniors and $5 for adults. For more information, call 728-2642 ext. 4286.

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