A provincial performance of Arsenic and Old Lace is scarcely more murderous or farcical than the bustling offstage mayhem among the principals and their pets.
When Fleur-de-Lys, imperious leading lady Dame Cecilia Savoy’s beloved Pekinese, passes away, she rushes off to a taxidermy shop to have him stuffed and returned posthaste. But Stuff Yours, the Brighton establishment she picks because it’s so close to the house her costar Matilda Jordan has opened to her in misguided hospitality, is a poor choice. Cecilia arrives with her codependent old actress friend Evangeline Sinclair and her old actress friend Trixie Dolan to find the shop on fire and the proprietor dead in the backroom. Snatching up Cho-Cho-San, a Japanese Bobtail Cat someone’s left behind to be stuffed even though she isn’t dead, Trixie is exposed to the full fury of Cecilia’s wrath for abandoning Fleur-de-Lys’s remains. And that’s before the Brighton constabulary gets into the act, drawn by witnesses who saw the dowagers speeding away from the burning building and suspicious about Matilda’s housekeeper, who hasn’t shown up for work because she’s lying dead at the bottom of the basement stairs.
Babson (The Cat Next Door, 2002, etc.) stages one of her most frivolous throwbacks to a simpler era involving, as Trixie says of Arsenic and Old Lace, nothing more serious than “serial murder, gentle madness and threatened menace”—not to mention two virtually anonymous victims.