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.