Tag Archives: Arsenic and Old Lace

Read Harder: Vol. 1

This year, I plan on chronicling my adventures with Book Riot’s 2016 Read Harder Challenge.

Read a play

I thought, for a hot second, about re-reading something from my high school English classes. But then I remembered that I hated Hedda Gabler, and while I love Shakespeare, I just didn’t have it in me. I wanted something short and funny. Arsenic and Old Lace, maybe?

Written in 1939 by Joseph Kesselring, it opened in 1941 and ran for 1,444 performances. This dark comedy is centered around the Brewster family — our hero Mortimer, his two brothers and their spinster aunts. And aside from Mortimer, they’re all insane.

Teddy believes he is Panama Canal-era Theordore Roosevelt, digging locks in the basement. Jonathan has just had surgery to conceal his identity (he now looks like Boris Karloff and was, in fact, played by Karloff on stage) and is on the run with his alcoholic doctor. The dear, sweet aunts have taken to murdering elderly gentlemen by offering them a bit of company and a glass of home-made elderberry wine laced with arsenic, strychnine, and “just a pinch” of cyanide. Poor Mortimer just wants to get married.

If farce and dark comedy is your jam, I can’t recommend this enough. And check out the movie, directed by Frank Capra; it stars Cary Grant as Mortimer and Peter Lorre as the surgeon, Dr. Einstein. I saw it as a kid and I think it informed my sense of humor as much as any Muppets or Mel Brooks movie.

— Jess




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Aunt Awesome

Last week, my nephew turned one. And in my first year of aunt-dom, I think I’ve done pretty okay. I’ve introduced him to Batman, hockey, and The Beatles; kept him well stocked in hand-knits; and will happily sit through an episode or two of Jake and the Neverland Pirates. Not a bad start in my quest to be the cool aunt. While I had my own cool aunt growing up (she had the best nail polish collection…), there are a few ladies in pop culture I can look to for inspiration.

For me, the ultimate cool aunt is Mame Dennis. The 1955 novel by Patrick Dennis was loosely based on his own eccentric aunt, Marion Tanner. In the story, an orphaned Patrick is sent to live with his wonderfully bohemian Auntie Mame. She gives Patrick a notebook to keep track of the words he doesn’t know, teaches him how to make a good martini, and encourages him to live life to the fullest. I’ve always appreciated Mame’s view that “life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” The 1958 movie, starring the great Rosalind Russell is one of my all time favorites.

Abby and Martha Brewster seem like the super-typical spinster aunts, however there is more to these two ladies from Arsenic and Old Lace than meets the eye. Sure, they make a mean elderberry wine cocktail, with just a pinch of cyanide (it’s simply a bit of charity that helps lonely old bachelors move on to the next phase of life). But they also know their nephew Teddy is happiest when left to the delusions that he’s Teddy Roosevelt – charging up the staircase like it was San Juan Hill and digging the Panama Canal in the cellar (while taking care of a few dead bodies). The Brewster aunts may be a little nuts, but they also encourage Teddy and their two other nephews to be themselves.

On the the long-running show Roseanne, Aunt Jackie usually had no idea what she wanted out of life for herself. But she was always there for Becky (both of them), Darlene, and DJ. Especially in the early years of the show, when Jackie would team up with DJ in schemes to terrorize his older sisters. Like Jackie, I may not always know what the heck I’m doing, but I want the best for my little guy.



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