Arsenic and Old Lace: the 1940s Broadway Play Makes Its Way to Bronx Science


Alexandria Ang

Reverend Harper, played by Joseph West ’18, chats with Abby Brewster, played Caroline Gallagher ’19 about the reverend’s daughter and Abby’s nephew, Mortimer, over tea.

The lights dimmed and the audience fell silent as they waited for the curtains to part. It was opening night of Bronx Science’s annual fall play. This year, a production of the 1940s Broadway classic ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ took center stage. The dark comedy is centered around the Brewsters, a family of homicidal maniacs.

The play takes place in a small house next to a cemetery in Brooklyn. In this house live two kind, thoughtful, sweet old ladies, Martha and Abby Brewster, played by Eden Augustine ’18 and Caroline Gallagher ’19, respectively, who have developed a bad habit of murdering lonely old men who have nothing to live for and consider it a charity. After poisoning the men using wine laced with arsenic, they leave it to their bugle blowing nephew Teddy (who believes himself to be Theodore Roosevelt), played by August Padua ’18, to take the bodies to “the Panama Canal” (the cellar) and bury them.

Another one of their nephews, Mortimer Brewster, a dramatic critic played by Ethan Hall ’20, returns home and discovers the bodies of one of the men that his aunts have killed. A different nephew, Jonathan, played by George Crooks ’19, returns to the home after years of fleeing the authorities due to his “unofficial practice” of killing people and using their faces to change his. As the story continues, we see each character trying to find resolution in their suddenly flipped upside-down lives. Mortimer tries to keep his aunts safe and prevent them from continuing their nasty habit while trying to stay sane with Elaine, the woman he loves, played by Noelle Barile ’21, the aunts try to continue their “charities,” and Jonathan tries to make a wealthy practice that is stationed inside the home.

As the stage lit up, the audience hushed and became still, waiting for the actors to weave their stories into the set beautifully created by the stage crew’s hard work. Nervous and excited energy filled not only the auditorium seats, but backstage as well, as the cast waited for their opening cues.

“Sitting there backstage after getting my costume on, makeup applied, and microphone on, I was super anxious.”

“Sitting there backstage after getting my costume on, makeup applied, and microphone on, I was super anxious. I remember asking myself, ‘This is my last play here, what if I mess this up?’” Joseph West ’18 said. “The fear stayed with me right until the curtains opened and scene one started. As soon as the lights turned on, I felt a calmness in me, and all that fear from before just vanished.”

Gallagher expressed similar sentiments, saying, “Opening night was one of the most nerve wracking parts of the entire production experience, save for auditioning. It’s the night when everything comes together, and you’re finally performing in front of a live audience.”

The audience was polite, appreciative, and engaged, easing the cast’s worries as they laughed at the witty one-liners and the ridiculous antics of the crazy characters.

“When you’ve run the show several times, the jokes aren’t as funny, and the plot twists aren’t as dramatic, so it’s always great to get an audience experiencing the show for the first time and getting to hear their engagement and reactions,” Gallagher said.

Lakhsmi Chatterjee
Jonathan Brewster, played by George Crooks ’19, and his sidekick Dr. Einstein, played by Natan Shaviv ’18.

The stage crew played a huge role in putting together this successful production. The combination of the efforts of the light, sound, costume, and makeup departments resulted in an aesthetically pleasing performance each night, with a wild measure of verisimilitude; it was as if the audience was truly sitting in the Brewsters’ living room watching the events unfold.

“This play was really fun to do costumes for and be a part of because of how crazy all of the characters are,” Juliet Godwin ’18, head of the costume department, said. “Being backstage during the performances is always really satisfying, because we get to watch the actors use the set that we’ve made to tell an entire story.”

While the play’s final show date has passed, those who were lucky enough to view it were able to enjoy the humor in the story, as well as the talent of each actor and actress on the stage. The contributions and cohesive effort made by the stage crew and the cast truly shined in a fantastic student led production. This year’s production served to make it even more clear that Bronx Science, while most often praised for its students’ achievements in STEM fields, is also home to many talented and dedicated members of the theater community.

Alexandria Ang
Two officers, played by Jing Mae Wang ’20 (right) and Ava Vercesi ’19 (left) chat with Reverend Hale (middle) as they wait to pick up a charity box from the Brewsters.