The Winchendon School Theater

Drama and Suspense: Arsenic and Old Lace

A Killer Comedy

A New York theater critic, his two spinster aunts, a Boris Karloff look-a-like, murder, a bevy of police, and a madcap romance were all on stage at The Winchendon School’s spring production of Arsenic and Old Lace.

Set in 1940s Brooklyn, the School’s production saw students performing in both their first and last (and at the same time) performances.  Joseph Kesselring’s farce on plays involving murder is joyful escapist entertainment with plenty to like, including the incredibly detailed living room set, where all of the action takes place.

At The Winchendon School, we know students learn and retain knowledge from live theater.  We know watching live theater enhances plot understanding, vocabulary, tolerance, and the ability to read emotions. (Greene, Hitt, Kraybill, and Bogulski, 2014.)

Directed by Elizabeth Peterson, Arsenic and Old Lace contains a history lesson of sorts for younger audience members. The audience was treated to big band swing music playing before, after, and during intermission, references to San Juan Hill, digging the Panama Canal, Teddy Roosevelt, and Boris Karloff!! In the play, New York drama critic, Mortimer Brewster (Blake W. ’18) is engaged to the girl next door (played by Abby L.’19) who happens to be a Reverend’s daughter. Upon going home to share the news with his two sweet but misguided aunts, Martha and Abby (Sydney C. ’21 and Teagan M. ’20), Mortimer discovers a dead body in the living room window seat.  From there, Mortimer’s happy engagement news takes a backseat to all of the family skeletons parading through the living room.  Mortimer’s brother thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt (wonderfully played by Harrison W. ’20) and his other brother is

“For a gallon of elderberry wine, I take a teaspoon full of arsenic, and add a half teaspoon of strychnine and then just a pinch of cyanide.”
a serial murderer (Mike M.’19 ) traveling with his personal plastic surgeon (Isabella W. ’18), Dr. Einstein. Are you keeping up? As Arsenic and Old Lace winds its way through to the end, the audience is treated to performances from A.J. S.’18, a squadron of police, and a brief, but powerful performance from newcomer Khalyl M. ’19.

Behind the scenes, students designed costumes, collected props, made stairs, worked as production associate, stage manager, and designed the poster for the play, truly a collaborative effort!


Curious about live theater and student learning?

Learn more by reading up on the research conducted by Jay P. Greene here and here.