Thursday 23, March 2023

Open Space Theatre’s Arsenic and Old Lace

A twisted, comical delight

For the past five years, Open Space Theatre (OST) has been an important catalyst in creating a new sub-culture of theatregoers from all walks of life.

Hence, it was no surprise that their latest and newest production, of Arsenic & Old Lace had two sold-out shows the very first day on February 11, at Bangladesh Mohila Samity. With their rendition of American playwright Joseph Kesselring's 1939 classic, OST showcased the best of fascinating genre of dark comedy.

The plot centers around two sisters, their three nephews and their deranged and murderous activities. The two aunts, Martha and Abby Brewster were played by S. Rahman and the founder of OST herself, Tisha Mahjabeen Chowdhury.

The scene opened with the sisters conversing with Reverend Harper, played by Iftakhar Mahi, about their mentally unstable nephew Teddy Brewster, played by Raihan Ahmed Dip. Two officers, played by Auvishekh Bhadra, and Zakaria Khan Rony, soon enter the chat to raise concerns about Teddy's activities. Their conversation unfolds to disclose how the late patriarch of the family was a mad doctor, who performed dangerous experiments on people that would lead to countless deaths.

We then meet Mortimer Brewster, played by the director of the show M Arifur Rahman, the eldest nephew. After a delightful encounter with his lovely girlfriend Elaine, played by Ummay Marium, Mortimer has a chance encounter with a corpse hiding under a window-seat.

The plot continues to thicken once he finds out that his sweet and charitable aunts have been the ones behind this murder. This sets him off on a quest to save his beloved aunts from indictment.

The shining stars of the show were the comically villainous duo, Jonathan and Dr. Einstein, played by A S M Mosabbir Tanim and Hadi Akash. Their entrance into the dimly lit stage was the perfect foreshadowing for the twists and turns that would soon bring us to the edge of our seats.

Another standout was Officer O'Hara, played by Tahmid Suprav, who entertained the audience with live music during his performance, creating a truly immersive atmosphere for the spectators.

The show ended with the hilarious antics of Police Lt. Rooney, played by Sharif M Tarik, while the sisters find another plausible victim in Mr. Witherspoon played by Johayer Mahtab Khan.

The show's narrative style beautifully stitched together every scene, with strong emphasis on making the delivery feel natural. "I encourage our actors to add their own instinctive improvisations to bring more relvance to the script." said M Arifur Rahman about his adaptation.

The set design was the impeccable execution of Tisha Mahjabeen Chowdhury, "Since the genre is dark comedy, vibrant pops of colors were incorporated throughout the set to make the set look more visually striking", she said. The lighting, done by Dhiman Chandra Barman, breathed life into the set.

The atmospheric music also perfectly encapsulated this grand cinematic world of delusion for the live audience.

While the curtain fell on this show, the actors thanked its audience and reminded them to find things to laugh about, even during the darkest of times. Is there a better way to do that than to watch dark comedy live on stage?