‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ on stage at Walnut Theater

Da­mon Bonetti

Drama crit­ic Mor­timer Brew­ster is en­gaged to lovely Elaine Harp­er, but will she fit in with his “un­usu­al” fam­ily?

Brew­ster’s aunts, Abby and Martha, are known throughout Brook­lyn for their many acts of kind­ness and char­ity. But their neph­ew has just learned that his charm­ing spin­ster aunts have taken to re­liev­ing the loneli­ness of old men by in­vit­ing them in for a nice glass of homemade eld­er­berry wine laced with ar­sen­ic and just a pinch of cy­an­ide.

And that’s not all. Brew­ster must also deal with a broth­er who be­lieves he is Theodore Roosevelt and digs locks for the Panama Canal in the cel­lar of the Brew­ster home (which then serve as graves for the aunts’ vic­tims), as well as a mur­der­ous broth­er who has re­ceived plastic sur­gery to con­ceal his iden­tity, per­formed by an al­co­hol­ic ac­com­plice, Dr. Ein­stein.

What hap­pens next will all be re­vealed in the clas­sic mad­cap com­edy, Ar­sen­ic and Old Lace, run­ning through April 27 at the Wal­nut Street Theat­er.

Be­gin­ning its life as a play, it has prob­ably be­come best known through its film ad­apt­a­tion star­ring Cary Grant as Mor­timer Brew­ster.

“And who can com­pete with Cary Grant,” asks Da­mon Bonetti, 39, who takes the role of Mor­timer in the Wal­nut’s pro­duc­tion.

In­tend­ing to be his “own man” in this show, Bonetti said this is not only a fun show to do but a real workout as well “be­cause after the first 15 minutes, I’m al­most con­stantly on stage. And without try­ing to im­it­ate any­one, I try to put my own stamp on the role, my own idio­syn­crasies.”

Bonetti was born and raised in Phil­adelphia, and said he didn’t real­ize he wanted to be an act­or un­til he got to col­lege. Ori­gin­ally want­ing to study jazz gui­tar, he said he didn’t get his au­di­tion tape out in time to go to the col­lege he had chosen, so wait­ing to re­apply, he went to a com­munity col­lege to at least earn some cred­its.

And that’s when fate stepped in.

“A buddy of mine took an act­ing class so I de­cided to join him. Later, I au­di­tioned for a play. I got a role but he didn’t. That’s when I felt I had an aptitude for act­ing, so after com­munity col­lege, I trans­ferred to what is now De­Sales Uni­versity to ma­jor in act­ing and even­tu­ally get my B.A. in theat­er.”

After col­lege, Bonetti said he toured with a com­pany out of Bo­ston, and later got a job as a pro­duc­tion as­sist­ant at the Wal­nut.

“Two years later, I ended up act­ing on the main stage in The Last Night of Bal­ly­hoo. That’s one of the great things about the Wal­nut. They look after their own homegrown tal­ent,” said Bonetti.

The act­or was last seen at the Wal­nut in a Stu­dio 3 pro­duc­tion of Around the World in 80 Days, which toured na­tion­ally. He’s also per­formed with the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Fest­iv­al, Act II Play­house, Luna Theat­er and more.

Cur­rently, he is the co-artist­ic dir­ect­or of the Phil­adelphia Artists’ Col­lect­ive, and an ad­junct pro­fess­or at Drexel, Row­an and Rut­gers uni­versit­ies.

Ar­sen­ic was first per­formed in 1941, yet audi­ences keep com­ing back for more. Bonetti thinks he knows why.

“Theat­er should be en­ter­tain­ing or it should move you, and it’s great when it can do both. And this one does with its dark edges and won­der­ful, weird char­ac­ters.” ••

For in­form­a­tion, call 215-574-3550. 

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