Murders, madness and missed lines: cast works overtime on ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’

“George, I swear I’m going to kill you!” junior Eric Hilton bellows as he looks up from the script in his hands.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

Sophomore George Cvetich scans the page, hastily looking for his next line.

“I’m lost,” Cvetich adds, defeated. The room seems to share in a collective exasperated sigh. Just moments later, he finds his place and delivers his long-awaited line.

This makes it the fourth time in the past 10 minutes that Cvetich has missed his cue line.

It’s an hour and a half into a three-hour rehearsal for the upcoming high-school play, “Arsenic and Old Lace,” and the cast is clearly exhausted. Practice began at 10 a.m. on Nov. 3— too early to even be awake for most on a Saturday and has gone along in the same vein for the entire time.

Photo by Kelsi Thomas
Junior Patrick Talamantes laughs at his missed line. (Photo by Kelsi Thomas)

As two bedraggled workers create the play’s set in the MP room, the actors are practicing in the much-smaller music room.

Although they made a faux stage in the midst of the piano and various other instruments, they have only half the space they would have in the MP room.

Ten actors are spread throughout the room, seven in chairs and three sprawled on the floor. On their phones, in the midst of eating yogurt, and trying to clean up ground-up Cheez-it bits, the actors have clearly lost any will to have a serious rehearsal.

“What are you guys doing? You’re not supposed to be on the floor. Get up!” Brian Frishman, director of school plays for the past 10 years, enters and lumbers to the center of the room. He takes a seat where the “audience” is, and the entire cast is on the move.

“Chris, to the audience,” Frishman critiques, adjusting an actor’s stance. Eighth grader Christian Van Vleck looks down, steps back, readjusts his feet and looks up at Frishman.

“Like this?” Van Vleck asks, receiving affirmation via a quick nod. They continue with their lines, and soon enough Frishman steps onto the “stage” and moves yet again.

Throughout the rehearsal, Frishman has been taking notes on the actors’ performance and, as at the end of every other rehearsal, it’s time to read them aloud. He gives specific notes to actors, critiquing their intonation and body movement. But as the cast starts to pack their bags, he gives a last-minute reminder.

Aunt Martha (Savannah Symister) and Aunt Abby (Jianna Gudebski) discuss the first death in their home. (Photo by Kelsi Thomas)

“Don’t forget, guys. Sixteen days till everything’s memorized!” he calls after them, one actor already outside and another in the doorway.

However, senior Jianna Gudebski isn’t worried. A seasoned actress, Gudebski has been in every high-school play since she was a freshman and claims this is all normal.

“A couple people have all their lines memorized. We have the gist down. We goof around but we stay on task,” Gudebski said.

“Arsenic and Old Lace” was written in 1939 by Joseph Kesselring. The plot revolves around drama critic Mortimer Brewster (Hilton), who lives with his two serial-killing aunts (Gudebski and junior Savannah Symister), a brother who thinks he’s Theodore Roosevelt (junior Grant Quattlebaum) and another brotheras

who is in hiding for murder (junior Patrick Talamantes).

Mortimer Brewster (Eric Hilton) talks to his boss Al about the play he’s reviewing. Photo by Kelsi Thomas)


Fast forward to 6:45 p.m. on Nov. 20, and the actors have congregated in the MP room. Luckily, they’re no longer limited to the music room since construction ended and the stage has been converted to a pre-World War II era living room with rosy pink walls, old-fashioned props, and kitschy décor.

The walls shake as Talamantes lunges for Van Vleck’s neck. The eighth grader hits the wall with the junior’s grasp around his jugular. Van Vleck begins to go red, but Talamantes holds his grasp. Less than 30 seconds later, the junior releases him. Van Vleck coughs, wheezing as he backpedals. Seconds later, Talamantes pats the eighth grader on the back and the scene changes.

The actors seem to come alive onstage–nearly all have memorized their lines and those who haven’t are well on their way. Despite a break in character every once in awhile, the actors hold steady, an admirable feat considering the absurdity of nearly every character.

Although not quite ready for opening night (Thursday, Dec. 13) the actors still have a few weeks to prepare.

And there’s sure to be a full house—especially since Frishman has continued with the not-so-secret tradition of attracting students by having two actors kiss.

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