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One Week in October: Arsenic and Old Lace

Arsenic and Old Lace, this fall’s mainstage theater production, played to appreciative audiences for two weekends in October. Some people from the community even came twice to see the crowd-pleasing comedy.

Dr. Teresa Ter Haar, who directed the production, says the description of comedy as “sweet instruction” emphasizes the valuable role it can play in our world. “Comedy often helps us see something of ourselves in a character on stage and laugh at ourselves a bit as we do,” says Ter Haar.

Ter Haar chose Arsenic and Old Lace for several reasons. Because it opened on Parents’ Weekend, she wanted a play that would appeal to a wide range of people. She also chose it because the department, which wants its students to get an opportunity to perform in a variety of different types of plays, had not done a classical comedy for several years.

“The alternate reality in a comedy like Arsenic presents particular challenges for actors,” says Ter Haar, citing such things as the slapstick humor, the witty dialogue, acting out over-the-top stereotypes, and making dramatic entrances.

For Ter Haar, the highlight of doing the show was watching her cast’s reaction to the audience. The audiences were generous with their laughter and open in their enjoyment of the performances. “The cast learned that the audience makes a delicious contribution to a performance,” she says. “It was wonderful to see them come off stage with wide eyes full of pure joy from the experience and to see them continue to get better right up until the closing performance.”

“Theater is a gift God gives to the community. It touches people on emotional and intellectual levels,” Ter Haar says. She counts it a privilege to help students discover and develop new talents, growing as individuals as they proceed through a production.

There’s something precious about being part of a production, she adds. It brings a group together for a short period to create and let something live—and then to say goodbye, grateful that they did something well and energized to ask “what’s next?”