BLUFFDALE — There are some plays and musicals that are simply classics. These triumphs of the stage have entertained audiences for generations with plots and characters that have stood the test of time. Arsenic and Old Lace is one of those plays. Written in 1941, this dark comedy by Joseph Kesselring still brings the laughs even today. Fortunately, Utah audiences can see this timeless show at the Bluffdale Arts Advisory Board’s new production at the outdoor theater in the Bluffdale City Park. I have seen many versions of this play and always enjoyed it, and the Bluffdale show is no exception. To make it even better, this production is free!

Show closes July 11, 2022.

Arsenic and Old Lace tells the story of Mortimer Brewster, a theatre critic, who comes to realize his family is composed of only murderous insane individuals, including his seemingly sweet aunts: Abby and Martha. The aunts have convinced themselves they are doing the right thing by poisoning lonely older men who come to them looking for a room they have for rent. When Mortimer finds out about this he is of course shocked, but they do not see anything wrong. They give them a proper funeral service, after all. Adding to the antics is Mortimer’s two brothers: Teddy (who believes he is President Theodore Roosevelt) and Jonathan (who has had plastic surgery so he looks like the actor Boris Karloff).

In Bluffdale’s production the casting goes a long way to making things work. Spencer Fox is great as Mortimer, capturing the physical comedy of the role very well. Jonah Elsberry is also fantastic as Jonathan. He gets that creepy Karloff voice down so well that he always made me laugh. Alaina Stone and Rebekah Christensen are also just the right mixture of naivety and sweetness to play Abby and Martha respectively.

As a theatre critic, it was fun watching a show where the lead character, Mortimer, is a theatre critic. Kesselring, who wrote 12 plays was undoubtedly throwing some shade on the theater critics of his day, but then he also takes digs at playwrights when one of the police officers, Officer O’Hara (played by Coy Christensen), drones on for hours about the play he is pitching to Mortimer while oblivious to the chaos surrounding him. The script also makes fun of the tropes in mystery novels/plays, with Mortimer complaining about the play he has seen where a preposterous murder mystery occurs while Jonathan acts out that very scene beat for beat around him. It is a hilarious that the actors pull off well.

Director Julie Fox has brought out the best in her actors getting them to perform with an energy needed for the play’s absurd comedy. I was also impressed with the two-story set (designed by Laura and Chuck Garner) with a long staircase to the upstairs and a basement door leading to the “Panama Canal” where Teddy buries the aunts’ victims or “yellow fever patients.” Every time Teddy (played by Ben Clawson) charged up the stairs with his trumpet and saber crying “charge,” it brought me to stitches.

Bluffdale City Park theater is an outdoor theater, and so audience members should dress for the weather and bring plenty of water. The audience can either take one of the chairs set up for them or bring their own chairs and blankets and sit on the lawn. This makes for a nice community event, and is nice that the group provides free water, popcorn and snow cones during the 10 minute intermission.

The sound quality and microphones can make a big difference in an outdoor production, but sound engineer Ralph Dabling makes sure the audience can always hear what the actors are saying. The costumes by Elizabeth Lines, Chelsea Ottoson, and Laura Garner (especially for Teddy and the Aunts), are exactly what this story requires.

One issue with the script is that the gimmick of the sweet aunts and crazy brother Jonathan runs out of steam after a while, and at times I wished the show moved faster. This is not a critique of the actors or director in Bluffdale, but of Kesselring’s script. After the 2-hour mark, the shenanigans are starting to feel repetitive.

Nevertheless, a play does not stick around for over 80 years without having a lot going for it, and that’s the case with Arsenic and Old Lace. It is a very funny dark comedy, and the production at Bluffdale is highly entertaining. With free admission, the play is a great way to introduce a family to the theater. And how many plays offer great entertainment and a free snow cone? There is one more chance to see Arsenic and Old Lace at Bluffdale City Park. Don’t miss all the morbid fun!

The Bluffdale Arts Advisory Board production of Arsenic and Old Lace plays nightly (except Sundays) through July 11 at Bluffdale Park (14400 South 2240 West, Bluffdale). Admission is free. For more information, visit

These reviews are made possible by a grant from the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts, and Parks program.