Directors, cast gear up for hilarious homicide

Co-directors Kat Taylor and Jonathan Mannato watch as cast members rehearse for their play, Arsenic and Old Lace, which opens the first week in May. (Elena Grande/For Your Niskayuna)Co-directors Kat Taylor and Jonathan Mannato watch as cast members rehearse for their play, Arsenic and Old Lace, which opens the first week in May. (Elena Grande/For Your Niskayuna)

BY ELENA GRANDE
For Your Niskayuna

NISKAYUNA — On spring afternoons after school, Niskayuna High School’s Little Theater is full of homicidal nutcases with a particular passion for poison.

The Drama Club, advised by Kelly Millet and Regina Maley, is working on the 1939 play “Arsenic and Old Lace,” a black comedy whose quirky themes have stood the test of time.

In the show, a man named Mortimer Brewster must contend with two spinster aunts who murder lonely old men for entertainment, a brother whose motives to kill are a bit less amusing, another brother who has convinced himself he’s Theodore Roosevelt, and a maniacal German plastic surgeon. And you thought your family was nuts.

Although the players agree they’ve had fun preparing for the offbeat show, co-directors Jon Mannato and Kat Taylor say they’ve met some bumps in the road along the way.

The play consists of two casts, something the Drama Club has never done before, to make sure the many talented high school actors who auditioned could all get their fill of hilarious homicide.

“Some of the people are new to acting and have never done a show,” Mannato said. “My worry is that when they see the audience, their nerves may have a negative effect on their performances.”

Most of the faith that Taylor and Mannato have in their actors comes from the growth and maturity they’ve seen from the start of rehearsals until now, just days before the live performance.

Although the cast includes many Drama Club veterans, there will also be a number of newcomers on stage when the curtain goes up. It’s in these inexperienced actors that the co-directors say they’ve seen the most growth.

“For anyone, when you’re starting something new, you to need to ease into it,” Mannato said at a recent rehearsal.

Helping newer actors do that has, in turn, helped the co-directors grow.

“I’ve learned tolerance, and how to be patient, because not everyone learns things at the same pace,” Taylor said.

Taylor and Mannato aren’t the only ones who can vouch for the actors’ improvement. Stage director Celine Fletcher can see everything from her vantage point behind the scenes, including actors memorizing their lines and getting their cues.

“Backstage comes with a lot of responsibility but the Drama Club family makes it all worthwhile,” Fletcher said. “We almost grow together, learning the show as we go on.”

Jonathan Mannato, left, and Kat Taylor, right, look over a script together while rehearsing for Arsenic and Old Lace. (Elena Grande/For Your Niskayuna)

Jonathan Mannato, left, and Kat Taylor, right, look over a script together while rehearsing for Arsenic and Old Lace. (Elena Grande/For Your Niskayuna)

Students at the helm

It’s easy to forget the directors, themselves, are also students, but Mannato and Taylor found they had some of their own issues to sort out throughout the pre-production process.

“Kat and I fought at first, but then we began to listen to each other,” Mannato said. “We have contrasting opinions, but we’ve learned to compromise.”

The two also had to make sure they weren’t biased toward their friends in the casting process.

“As directors, we learn how to listen to people,” Taylor said. “You only learn that kind of thing through something like directing.”

The co-directors also felt that having to be authority figures to their peers has been a tough adjustment.

“It’s very hard when you are trying to make a decision that affects a lot of people because if they’re against you, you feel like you’re not doing your job correctly,” Mannato said. “You have to learn that you can’t please everyone.”

Being first-time directors, however, isn’t all one big struggle. In fact, Taylor and Mannato said the pros far outweigh the cons. The pair has spent the past three years of high school acting in the spring play, so having the chance to direct has been as exhilarating an experience as it is an unfamiliar one.

“The hard part is you want to be on the stage. You have so many ideas and you want to carry that into a performance,” Taylor said. “It’s cool though, because you can see what others bring to the table for their characters.”

Play on
“Arsenic and Old Lace” will be staged at the Niskayuna High School Little Theater at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 30; 7 p.m. Friday, May 1; and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, May 2. Tickets cost $7 for students and $9 for adults, and may be purchased at the door.

About the Author

Rebecca Isenhart
Rebecca Isenhart is the reporter/writer for Your Niskayuna, presented by the Daily Gazette of Schenectady.