CULLMAN, Ala. – The Cullman Community Theater presented their production of Joseph Kesselring’s 1941 play “Arsenic and Old Lace” this weekend. The plot was inspired by true events that took place in in the early 1900s. Amy Archer-Gilligan opened a boarding house in 1907 for the elderly. These residents began mysteriously dying at such a rate that one of the deceased’s relatives grew suspicious and uncovered the truth: Gilligan had been poisoning her residents with arsenic for years, and killed around 60 people including her second husband.
Kesselring ran with this grim topic and created a farce on plays involving murder. The story follows the same vein of underestimating deceptively sweet elderly ladies. Protagonist Mortimer is shocked to find his aunts have been poisoning lonely old men for years. He does everything in his power to help them evade capture. He is loyal to his aunts despite discovering that they have 12 men buried in the basement. However, as Mortimer says, “Insanity runs in my family; it practically gallops.” Mortimer is accustomed to the madness of his family as his brother believes himself to be Teddy Roosevelt, and his great-grandfather used to scalp Indians for pleasure. As Mortimer faces off with his maniacal brother Jonathan to protect his aunts’ secret hobby, he fights to retain his own sanity.
The farce is ironically a favorite amongst regional theaters throughout America as it revolves around the drama critic Mortimer who is not especially fond of the theater. The Cullman Community Theater hosted a successful sold-out comedy which earned many laughs. The cast is made up of volunteers from all walks of life, some of whom were first-time actors. The CCT was revived in the spring of 2018 in partnership with a special programs department at Cullman Parks, Recreation & Sports Tourism. They have since had several successful seasons seeing thousands of audience members across sold out shows and theaters.
Director Cindy Pass stated, “Our biggest challenge every year is finding a venue, and this venue has been great, but we can’t get into it until a week before the show, and so that really restricts us as far as where we rehearse.” One of the places the group rehearsed was a warehouse owned by one of the actors. The warehouse was not heated, so the cast often rehearsed in 30-degree weather. When the group was able to move their set to Stonebridge, they only had time for four rehearsals before opening night. Pass said about the cast, “They are great people. I’ve worked with most of them before. We have a few people who have never acted before that came and helped us, and they are just awesome.” The hard work of the cast paid off as Pass said she was excited to see people from Cullman who do not go to a lot of theater plays coming to the show and enjoying it.
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