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Synopsis of Scenes

The entire action of the play takes place in the living room of the Brewster home in Brooklyn. Time: 1940s.

An afternoon in September.

That same night.


Scene 1: Later that night.
Scene 2: Early the next morning.

Setting the Scene...

Arsenic and Old Lace, written by Joseph Kesselring in 1939, was first performed on stage in January 1941. The play gained popularity as a result of the conditions Americans faced during the Great Depression and World War II.

During this period, Americans sought refuge from the pain and worry of their everyday lives. With a desire to forget about the era's hopelessness, many activities increased in popularity. For example baseball, already considered America's pastime, saw larger attendance than ever before. Americans also began going to the movies in high numbers.

The theater was another means of escape for people facing hard times. Comedies became very well-liked because of their ability to make people laugh in an otherwise solemn situation . In particular, Arsenic and Old Lace gained a level of admiration because it depicted comedic situations of people unaffected by the problems of everyday Americans. The audience saw Arsenic and Old Lace as a way to temporarily forget about their plight and the global problems of the era.

Publication Date







The Masque


Theatre and Performance Studies


Producer's Corner

Welcome to The Masque of La Salle's spring production of Joseph Kesselring's Arsenic and Old Lace. After two shows that dealt with tragedy in a very real way, we've decided to take old George M. Cohan's advice and "Always Leave Them Laughing." Keeping with this year's theme of dark humor, this farce takes on poison, dead bodies, a murderer and a madman! Rest assured, however, that unlike your favorite Frankenstein movie, this production will leave you rolling in the aisles, not huddled in your seats.

We are very proud to have brought back a Masque alumna to direct this production . Jess Ciaramella, Class of 2005, left La Salle to pursue a graduate degree in theater from Villanova University. In all her work with cast and crew alike, Jess has shown what a graduate education tempered with Masque experience can do.

Anyone who has theater experience knows that a production is always a group effort. We would like to thank all of the cast and crew for their talent, diligence and enthusiasm in this three-show marathon-the stage would be quite literally empty without them . We would also like to thank Dawn Wanner, our advisor, for her constant support with issues big and small. A special thanks to the Student Funding Board, Multimedia Services, Union Services, Administrative Services, and the Division of Student Affairs for their continued support of The Masque and all its endeavors-it never goes unnoticed.

Next season will be the 80th anniversary of student-run theater at La Salle University. Looking back on our journey through 79 years, it is of great pride that we have found a season which incorporates three shows never performed on our stage. With pleasure, we invite you into the manic lives of the Brewster family. Settle in, make yourself at home- just don't drink the wine!

Doug Phelan & Carolyn Holl
Producer and Producer Elect

Director's Corner

When the Masque first tossed around Arsenic and Old Lace, I was a student here, but we pushed it to the sidelines to make room for an edgy contemporary drama. It just made sense at the time. There's something thrilling about a play that challenges an audience with hotbutton issues and touchy subject matter, and since there's no shortage of such plays to pick from these days, it's easy to imagine Arsenic and Old Lace sitting on the sidelines forever.

A comedy from the 1940s? How could that possibly challenge an audience?

At least that's what I was asking myself when I first picked up the script. The theater world is chock-full of domestic comedies, with mystery and intrigue and people slamming doors and running up and down stairs - how could this play possibly be any different?

Then I started reading.

And while I found plenty of running (or charging) up and down stairs and enough door-slamming to make any tech crew nervous, I found something else - something I didn't expect.

Arsenic and Old Lace isn' t just a comedy - it's a dark comedy, and that's an important distinction. I don't want to give away the plot, but trust me, you'll know exactly what I mean about 15 minutes into Act I.

Back when this show first premiered, people went to the theater in droves to escape from reality. Times were tough, and they bought their tickets and took their seats expecting a few good laughs. What they didn't expect was to be laughing at the twisted absurdity Arsenic and Old Lace brought to the stage. This wasn't at all like the plays they were used to. It was offensive ... it was distasteful...and they absolutely loved it!

These days, people need a good laugh more than ever. And while our opinions of what is offensive have changed, our reactions to a good dark comedy remain the same. Maybe it's OK to laugh at something you aren't quite sure you should admit is funny. Maybe it's cathartic to find humor in something terribly dark and if it's also terribly funny.

Theater exists to meet the needs of its audience. It fills a void that television and movies can never fill by presenting life, or some crazy rendition of it, before a live audience. Yes, sometimes we need a contemporary play to challenge our modern reality. But sometimes we need a classic dark comedy to help us escape from this reality, while challenging us to laugh into the darkness.

Thank you for coming and enjoy the show!

Jessica Ciaramella
Director, Class of 2005

Rights Statement

Arsenic and Old Lace