Arsenic and Old Lace opens on March 19, 2014 at the Walnut Street Theatre. Mary Martello is part of this talented cast, and she plays one of the aunts, Abby. The Walnut Street Theatre calls Arsenic and Old Lace, “one of American Theatre’s funniest comedies.” This is one show that will definitely have audiences laughing.
Martello has been in over eighteen productions at the Walnut Street Theatre including Grease, The Music Man and Vincent in Brixton. She has also performed at many theatres in our region including the Arden Theatre, People’s Light & Theatre Company, and Fulton Theatre. I had the honor of speaking with Martello about the play and about the joys of theatre.
Kelli Curtin: How would you describe your character, Abby?
Mary Martello: Abby is full of love. She is head of the family now and she is a caretaker. I love playing Abby. She is so full of contradictions. She is caring, gentle and full of love, but she also wants to find the end for lonely old men. She sees it as a charity and gift for people who are lonely and miserable.
Kelli Curtin: What can audiences expect for Arsenic and Old Lace?
Mary Martello: A rollicking good time! This play is so well crafted that there is little anyone can do to hurt it. Audiences will be surprised, touched and laugh so hard that they will have to clutch their nether regions. The play is a little different from the movie because in the movie Arsenic and Old Lace some of the plot takes place outside the home, and in the play all the events take place within the Brewster home.
Kelli Curtin: How did you prepare yourself for this role?
Mary Martello: One thing that Chuck Abbott [the director of Arsenic and Old Lace] and I talked about was keeping Abby in her world. The play takes place in 1941, and Abby lives in an earlier timeframe. Abby has a delicacy and gentleness about her. I am used to playing strong characters, so keeping my mind in Abby’s world has been a bit of a challenge. This is not to say that Abby is a pushover because she is not, but she gets things done from a gentle persuasion.
Kelli Curtin: You have been very successful in your career; you have 16 Barrymore award nominations. Is there anyone/anything to which you attribute your success?
Mary Martello: I love what I do. Acting is a way of expressing myself. One of my strong points is being part of a team and being a team player. I make sure I blend with other voices, and being part of a team in a theatre is like being part of a choir.
I approach things from an innocent point of view. I approach a script with an open mind and as if each character is new to me.
I have had wonderful training. I trained with Richard Thomsen and John Peakes in Michigan. They infused in me a desire to instill a truth in every line I perform. I hope this shows in my performances.
Kelli Curtin: What was your favorite role you have played thus far? Are there any other role(s) you would like to play onstage?
Mary Martello: I am usually playing great roles, so it is difficult to choose. At the Arden Theatre I was in Michael Hollinger’s show, Red Herring. That play was a joy for me. I love Michael’s work and this spring I will be in Incorruptible [another of Hollinger’s plays at the Arden Theatre.] I also like playing Abby in Arsenic and Old Lace. I get to play this completely uninhibited character with Jane Ridley [who plays Abby’s counterpart, Martha Brewster]. Jane and I met during a photo shoot at the Fulton Theatre, and we discovered a sisterly bond. A relationship like this makes acting at its best, and allows me to live in the moment.
Roles I would like to play, definitely Madame Arcati in Blythe Spirit. And, I think I would do a bang up job in Mame.
Kelli Curtin: As an actor, what gives you the most fulfillment on stage?
Mary Martello: Being onstage and being able to connect and communicate with the audience. It does not matter what type of venue it is. The thrilling part for me is to find the way into the audience’s awareness.
Kelli Curtin: Why do you believe live theatre is important?
Mary Martello: A kind of connection happens in live theatre that does not happen anywhere else. For me, the audience provides information, which helps me build a character. The Walnut Street Theatre has nine previews, which is great because with the feedback from the audience I can go back and continue building that character. This is something that only happens in live theatre and not in a movie; live theatre is an interactive experience.
Kelli Curtin: Is there anything you would like to add?
Mary Martello: I would add that I cannot imagine doing anything else. It is a privilege to be an actor, and it is an honor that people come and see us on stage. People come see what we have to offer and this mutual experience is sacred, it is sharing our gifts as actors with another human being.
Arsenic and Old Lace runs at the Walnut Street Theatre through April 27, 2014. For more information and tickets visit the Walnut Street Theatre’s website at www.walnutstreettheatre.org or call the box office at 215-574-3550.
Photos credit: J. Urdaneta Photography
Kelli Curtin is editor and writer for theatresensation.com. In addition, she is a contributor for the online sites broadwayworld.com and figlancaster.com and is a freelance writer. Kelli is excited to share her passion about theatre and the arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on twitter @theatrescribe and on Facebook/theatresensation.