Two nights ago, my husband, kids and I had the pleasure of watching our eldest daughter’s onstage debut in her first-ever play—a radio drama entitled, “Mystery Cavalcade of 1946”. In our most unbiased opinion (seriously), she was superb in her portrayal of Martha Brewster in “Arsenic and Old Lace”—one of three short skits performed by middle school students within a running time of 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Donning cardigans, dresses, skirts, slacks, suits or sweater vests reminiscent of the 1940s, the students transported audience members back to an era when old-time radio drama was popular. Since essentially there were no visuals, the talents’ skillful inflections painted each scene and story. And, these kids were successful—we were captivated by the cadence of animated dialogue—spoken with a 1940s radio-type manner. One child, acting as the radio announcer and narrator, even kept the audience highly entertained with ads for a major sponsor—Ovaltine.
If you’re unfamiliar with “Arsenic and Old Lace”, it’s basically the story of Mortimer Brewster, his two spinster aunts (Martha and Abby Brewster), his uncle (Teddy) and brother (Jonathan). Unbeknownst to Mortimer, his aunts perform what they’ve coined “mercy” killings of men with no families, friends or permanent homes. By giving these lonely folks a glassful of Martha’s refreshing homemade concoction—a gallon of elderberry wine mixed with 1 teaspoon of arsenic, ½ a teaspoon of strychnine and a pinch of cyanide—according to Abby, they’re performing works of “charity”.
Originally a black-and-white film, which starred Cary Grant, this comedy is laced with dark humor and mystery, which is apparent and appreciated by even the youngest of audience members—mainly our other girls.
Prior to “Arsenic and Old Lace”, other cast members engaged the audience with a skit based on the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie – The Bridge is Destroyed”—where the young redhead is in the middle of yet another adventure. The second skit was “Sherlock Holmes – The Adventure of the Tolling Bell”, which is based on the novel “The Golden Prince-Nez” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
When the evening’s performances ended, I was asked, “So what does cavalcade mean?” Two pairs of eyes gazed at me intently, waiting for the answer. Adopting the mysterious aura of the evening, I replied.
- Me: “Well, let’s see. What did you see tonight?”
Daughter: “We watched three plays.”
Me: “That’s right, you saw three. Now what types of plays did you see?”
Daughter: “Well, hers (referring to her sis) was funny. The others were, too. But theirs were more…oh, wait, they’re all – mystery. So that’s mystery cavalcade?”
Me: “Hmmm… How about we check it out in your dictionary?”
Daughter: “Cool. Okay.” The suspense was written all over her face.
Upon our return home, she plopped herself in front of the laptop, used her copy of the program and typed a keyword “cavalcade” and with the aid of ultra-handy and efficient “Google”, she got Mr. Webster’s official online definition via the kiddie version:
Main Entry: cav·al·cade
Pronunciation: kav- l- k d, kav- l- k d
1 : a procession especially of riders or carriages
2 : a dramatic series (as of related events)
Ah…my daughter wore a big smile, as she shut the computer down. Another mystery solved.
Additional References: You may want to check these out at your leisure, made possible through the magic of modern 21st Century technology. Here are free radio scripts of all three plays:
- “Arsenic and Old Lace” Click on the link for Screen Guild Players, and you’ll get a pdf of the script.
- “Little Orphan Annie – The Bridge is Destroyed” – Type the keywords “little orphan annie the bridge is destroyed” for a list of search results. Click on the first link on the list—a pdf of the radio script.
- “Sherlock Holmes – The Adventure of the Tolling Bell”
Movie Night. And for those wishing to have a great laugh with moments of suspense, for your viewing pleasure, here’s the black-and-white movie – “Arsenic and Old Lace” starring Cary Grant, available through YouTube.
I highly recommend watching the movie (it’s free). Order some pizza, butter some popcorn and make it a movie night. Enjoy, and feel free to post comments here, or via our Facebook fan page! We look forward to hearing from you.
Enjoy your trip to the 1940s.