Tonight is the second performance of the Hammond Theatre Department’s production of Arsenic and Old Lace, a play by Joseph Kesselring. The Bear Press’ Nicolette Brookman sat down with Ms. Tobiason, Hammond’s theatre teacher and the producer for this play.
What is your favorite thing about this production?
I think the best thing, after seeing it with an audience last night, that comes to mind is the comic timing and the reactions of the characters. It was very entertaining. [I enjoyed] the entertainment value, the unexpected twists and turns, getting to have an audience experience that for the first time, and the energy that that gives to the actors.
How does Hammond make this production different from the original version?
We decided to cast some of the roles cross-gender. For instance, both of our Jonathans, who are the antagonists, are played by gals. It’s kind of cool to let a girl play the “bad guy” part because that doesn’t happen often. We didn’t make any script changes because you’re contractually obligated to produce it as it is published, but I think the casting [makes it unique].
Are there any personality traits that the actors bring that make the show different and unique?
It’s always different whenever there’s a new actor portraying it because they have slightly different mannerisms or relationships, like backstories, that they’ve developed, so that is going to vary every single time. You could even see that if you were to come to both the casts (Thursday night cast v. Friday night cast). You see that it’s very different. The intense moments are intense in different ways, or the reactions or interactions are different. I think that’s always going to be different. But I would say the cross-gender casting is something that isn’t really traditionally done. I know Centennial happens to be doing Arsenic this weekend as well, and I don’t think that they did the cross-gender casting, at least for any of the main characters like Jonathan or Einstein.
How is this production different than the 2006 production Hammond did?
We have a different set design. Obviously the requirements are the same, but we placed things in some different places. We have a lot more lighting equipment that we’ve been able to utilize, and Zach [Sager] is really invested in using lighting design to help tell the story and create a mood, so I would say that our lighting design is definitely doing more for us. [There’s also the] cross-gender casting like I talked about, and then I seem to have a lot more juniors in leading roles than I did. I had more seniors, which is often a thing that happens just because they have a lot of experience, but we have a really strong junior representation, so it’s been kind of fun to have slightly younger actors and actors that we know will be around next year for next year’s productions.
How has the show grown and changed since auditions?
When you audition, there isn’t a show. It’s just kind of an idea. You have a script, and you have maybe some sketches of what you want things to look like, and you have an idea of who you want for things. All of the actors have done an amazing job creating totally three-dimensional, believable characters with really strong goals. One of the things that I think is the biggest improvement is the accent that Dr. Einstein uses. It’s German, so learning a German accent has been a lot of fun. We also had to figure out the intricacies of how to handle moving a dead body, like a real body, on and off the stage or through a window [and] how to tie somebody up without having them escape. All of those physical, comic moments have really come together. There really isn’t a show when you audition- it’s just a story, and then it becomes the show.
What is your favorite scene or line in Arsenic?
The inciting incident. I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a moment where Mortimer, the protagonist, learns something that changes his life. That is a favorite moment because it is just such a shock to him and [I like] to see how he processes that. Our Mortimer, Nick, is doing a fantastic job with it, so it’s a lot of fun. But, because that’s sort of the easy answer, that would probably be what 90% of the people say, I would say that [I enjoy] a couple of the lines that Abby and Martha have that are delivered completely deadpan, where what they’re saying is absolutely ridiculous, but they deliver it with a totally flat tone and like it’s not a big deal at all. The audience is just that tickled when that happens because it’s like, “How can you say that you’re doing this, but it’s just like, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re having a cup of tea.’?” So I think some of the deadpan deliveries and lines Abby and Martha get are really fun.
What is your favorite part about producing this show?
I didn’t direct this show, to clarify things. Acting as producer of this show is kind of an interesting thing because usually I’m director. I invited Samantha Duvall, who is the Mt. Hebron theatre teacher, to direct. She doesn’t direct the shows at Mt. Hebron, so this was a way for her to have an opportunity to direct a full-length student production, and I sort of mentored her. As producer, I was very involved in auditions, and I handled helping create the calendar and handled all of the ticketing and publicity. I was not here every single afternoon with them to do the blocking or develop the characters. That fell to Ms. Duvall. I would say I was popping in once a week to check on rehearsals and everything like that. It has been fun, because I already directed it, to step back and see it in kind of a larger view. I think because I was coming in maybe once a week, I saw much greater changes because I wasn’t here every single minute of every single day. Personally, it was nice because I have two small children at home to be able to balance work life and personal life, but it’s also been really, really fun to collaborate with Ms. Duvall and Mr. Chiarella, who is the technical director. I really like having a team of people to bounce ideas off of. Sometimes when you’re directing a play, you can feel kind of isolated because there’s not a musical director and a choreographer and all of those people that come into a musical, but when it’s just a straight play, the director can sort of be this lone wolf. That can make it difficult to be inspired or to problem solve for difficult things, so I just love the collaboration that I was able to have with Ms. Duvall and Mr. Chiarella.