Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Well, I apologize for neglecting my blog. But I do have some interesting observations this afternoon. Or, I hope you’ll find them interesting.

I live between Baltimore and Washington, and this year Center Stage in Baltimore made a tempting offer to lure back subscribers who had fallen by the wayside. Heavily discounted tickets. So last night we went to see ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, by Joseph Kesselring. As you know, I write fantasy. And while the play has no werewolves or vampires, it’s definitely historical urban fantasy.

I’d never seen it before. Not even the Cary Grant movie. Apparently, it was Kesselring‘s only really successful play. And it’s VERY funny. You probably know the story is about two sweet old sisters who poison men and bury them in the basement. But there are lots of other elements that are just right. You find out very quickly that the nephew is crazy–and thinks he’s Theodore Roosevelt. He believes he’s digging the Panama Canal in the basement. Of course he’s really digging graves–where he buries “yellow fever victims.” Then the plot twists when the long-lost other nephew comes home. And he also turns out to be a mass murderer–who thinks he’s in competition with his aunts to see who can off the most victims.

Kesselring‘s goal is to keep the audience laughing. And he doesn’t care how he does it. Everybody’s the butt of his jokes, including Mortimer, the drama critic hero. The guy doesn’t exactly start off likeable. And as the play progresses, he gets into serious trouble because of his own stupidity. He turns out to have some heroic qualities, but it’s hard to root for a drama critic who plans to write his review “on the way to the play–to save time.”

In my own work, I am constantly thinking about what would make my hero and heroine more appealing to the reader. So as I watched the performance, I was making mental notes on how I would have improved Mortimer. I would have made him less contemptuous of his job. And I would have. . . . Hum, if I tell that part, I’ll give away a major (and very funny) plot twist.

Now I’ve got to see the Cary Grant movie and find out if the film did a better job with the hero. Or is he still basically a jerk–with a few redeeming qualities?