You’d never guess it by their work as adversaries in Arsenic and Old Lace, Royal Canadian Theatre Company’s entertaining current production, but Michael and Jacqueline Charrois really do like to play together.
The 80-year-old black comedy features the married pair in starring roles – Michael as Jonathan Brewster, the evil nephew opposite Jacqueline’s aunt Martha Brewster, one of the twisted sisters in Joseph Kesselring’s story of murder, insanity and family infighting at a Brooklyn mansion.
The play, RCTC’s season-opener, was staged at New Westminster’s Anvil Centre late last week, and is brought to Surrey Arts Centre for a trio of shows this Friday and Saturday (Oct. 26-27).
As a married couple, Michael and Jacqueline relish the opportunity to hit the stage together.
“Michael and I, we always have fun playing together on stage – it’s just easy, you know,” Jacqueline said in a conference-call interview with the two on Friday, the morning after Arsenic and Old Lace previewed in New West.
“When you’re on stage, there’s a definite familiarity, even though you’re playing different characters every time out. There are times when I go, ‘Oh, you’re doing that little trick!’ And that’s the familiarity we have.”
Michael and Jacqueline met at the Burr Theatre in New Westminster in 2003 while working on a production of Harvey, and have gone on to act together in close to a dozen plays.
Michael is a full-time actor, while Jacqueline recently retired from her job in the commercial real estate business – “not as a seller but as an administrator,” she noted. They live in North Vancouver, and commute regularly to Royal Canadian’s rehearsal studio in the heart of Whalley.
“We’ve done that for the last two or three years, quite a bit,” explained Jacqueline, noting a long history with Ellie King, the theatre company’s artistic director.
“Michael was already involved in her (shows) at the Burr Theatre when I came aboard, and right away, (King) was so nice – a wonderful, welcoming, warm person and highly creative, so it’s just a thrill to work with her so often.”
In conversation, Michael and Jacqueline finish each other’s sentences. In one sequence, Michael started. “Jacqueline, Steve Weller and myself, two seasons ago, played the cousins in It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, and Ellie liked the… “…chemistry between the three of us,” Jacqueline said without missing a beat. Michael continued. “And when it came to this play she said, ‘Oh, you guys would be great as these three characters in (Arsenic and Old Lace). She always wanted to do that play…” “…which was great,” Jacqueline quickly added. “I saw the original movie, with Cary Grant, when I was a little kid – I’m over 60 now, but I saw that film and I’ve always just loved it, always. So this is a role I’ve always wanted to do, so I was very excited when Ellie mentioned it.”
In Royal Canadian’s version, Weller wears dresses and a wig to play Abby Brewster, Martha’s sister. Together, they work to poison visitors who happen upon their home, much to the horror of their nephew Mortimer (played by Steven Simpson), a theatre critic. When his long-lost brother Jonathan shows up with an uneasy plastic surgeon (Kurtis Maguire), things get even darker in a house with a jet-black secret.
Last Thursday’s show included a hiccup with an old phone that just wouldn’t ring properly – but no problem, just on with the show. “When we were backstage and waiting to go on for the second act, and Ellie commented (to the audience) about it being a preview and how the phone didn’t ring properly, that was lovely because it brings the audience in, and the audience knows, right,” Jacqueline said. “It’s just that acknowledgement, and gives them a good laugh. It’s some insight about the show, and it’s real. That’s the thing today, because a lot of people who go to theatre don’t realize that we only get one shot at this, we don’t get to stop and say, ‘OK, let’s take that again,’ like they do on TV and in the movies. So it’s all what’s happening now, at that moment, and if something goes wrong, well OK, you have to deal with it.” Added Michael, with a laugh: “And that’s why we study improvisation, so we can fly by the seat of our pants.”
Other actors featured in RCTC’s Arsenic and Old Lace include Charles Buettner (as Harper/Rooney), Victor Vander Merwe (Teddy), Shaun McHale (Brophy), Kyle Brogan (Klein), Amanda Prasow (Elaine), Jess Redmond (O’Hara) and Rob Larsen (Gibbs/Witherspoon).
The show comes with an audience advisory of some slightly scary situations, and is suitable for older children.