Bennington Community Theater ends its first season with Arsenic and Old Lace

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BENNINGTON >> Two sisters who think lonely old men are better off dead and their nephew, Teddy, who thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt, are just a few characters in "Arsenic and Old Lace," a play that will be performed by locals this Friday and Saturday.

The play caps the inaugural season of Bennington Community Theater, founded by Shay Francis and Robert Ebert. They've rented Oldcastle Theater on Main Street and will perform at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tickets are $10, available at the door or through reservation.

Ebert said the proceeds will benefit the Bennington Free Library.

"It's not really part of our mission statement to be raising money for other groups, but it just seems like a natural thing to do," said Ebert on Tuesday at a rehearsal.

The cast of "Arsenic and Old Lace," written by Joseph Kesselring in 1939, has been rehearsing for the past six weeks.

"It's a huge cast, it's 13 people," said Ebert. "These are people who go to work in the day and come here at night to rehearse."

Ebert, a retired firefighter from Texas who moved here with his wife in 2009 got involved in local theater through meeting Sally Sugarman, who was part of the Season of Mystery series in 2010. Ebert said it involved a number of radio plays featuring Sherlock Holmes and that his wife, and Sugarman, convinced him to start the theater group. He was then introduced to Francis.

"To sit back and watch as they master their lines, master their stage movement, become more confident in what they're doing, it's really amazing. And they're working so hard at this," Ebert said of the cast. "My goal for this has always been, if they learn their lines, if they put their heart into this, and if they have fun, that's really all I want."

He said their future goals are to finish a successful season and next year try to put together a board of directors and incorporate Bennington Community Theater as a non-profit.

"Our first production was in May, it was a one-act play called "Big Bad Wolf," which Shay wrote, directed, and produced. She went out and raised all the money for the cost of production, held raffles and things like that. Then in June we did some dramatic readings of Sherlock Holmes stories. That was at the Bennington Free Library."

Francis also held improv workshops at Willow Park, which led to a relationship with the Bennington Museum. The group has done dramatic readings of Sherlock Holmes stories as well as a Sherlock Holmes play written by Bob Sugarman, of Shaftsbury, titled "Terror Under the Big Top."

"Our mission statement is to offer low-cost high quality theatrical performances for the community and to offer opportunities to people in the community who wish to pursue their interest in live theater," said Ebert.

People interested in working behind the scenes are also more than welcome, he said.

The folks working on "Arsenic and Old Lace" range in age from 18 to 60s.

"We have a real theater, we have real lights, we've got a pretty nice set, nice costumes. It's going to be a good, quality show for people to come and see," Ebert said.

They chose to do "Arsenic and Old Lace" because it's fairly well-known among theatergoers.

"Two dear, sweet sisters live in the house where they grew up. They have decided that lonely, old men who have no family and no one to share their lives with are very sad, and would be much more at peace of they were dead, and so they poison them and bury them in the cellar," said Ebert.

They have three nephews who make appearances in the play.

"One lives with them, that's Teddy. He thinks he's Teddy Roosevelt, and whenever they poison someone they tell him that another yellow fever victim has died and has to be buried in the Panama Canal, so he buries them in the basement," said Ebert.

More information can be found on the show and the Bennington Community Theater at www.benningtoncommunitytheater.com.

— Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at 802-447-7567 Ext. 115


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