McKenzie Meyer, center, shares a lighter moment with Eric Wertz, right, during Coupeville High School’s Wolf PAC Theatre Troupe rehearsal for “Arsenic and Old Lace” at Coupeville’s Performing Arts Center Monday night, Feb. 27, 2017. Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Coupeville drama club tackles wacky dark comedy

Playing the character of the “evil nephew” in “Arsenic and Old Lace” seems to suit Eric Wertz quite well.

The Coupeville High School junior was describing his role in the play during a rehearsal Monday night when he suddenly broke into one of his lines, his tone turning so sinister that it gave a fellow student within earshot a chill.

“He scares me!” freshman Helen Sinclair said. “It’s creepy how good he is.”

Coupeville High School’s Wolf PAC Theatre Troupe will be performing “Arsenic and Old Lace,” four times over the next two weekends. The first show will be at 7 p.m. Friday in the school’s Performing Arts Center.

There was a nervous buzz by cast members in anticipation of the fast approaching opening night, yet also a sense that they were tackling something special.

Not only is “Arsenic and Old Lace” a stage classic by American playwright Joseph Kesselring, it is a challenging, fast-paced, very twisted dark comedy that demands careful attention to timing.

It is exactly the sort of play that appeals to Wertz, who’s been acting in Coupeville stage productions since the seventh grade and was eager to graduate to a more central, villain-type role as Jonathan Brewster.

The whole Brewster family is made up of homicidal maniacs. Desirae Bradley and Bree Daigneault play Martha and Abby Brewster, Jonathan’s spinster aunts who come across as sweet and innocent except for a peculiar habit of poisoning a long line of lonely old men.

But there’s competition over who’s responsible for the greatest body count. Wertz’s character doesn’t disguise his nastiness.

“Keep in mind, I’m willing to kill anyone who gets on my nerves,” said Wertz, whose character ponders making his brother Mortimer Brewster, played by Nikolai Lyngra, his 13th victim.

Twenty members of Coupeville’s drama club have been preparing to bring the show to the school stage since late January, under the tutelage of longtime advisor Peg Tennant.

Tennant said that the farce requires “absolutely impeccable timing,” which has been one of the biggest challenges.

“You’ve got to be on your toes,” Daigneault said.

Tennant credited Stefanie Ask, an English and drama teacher, with playing a key role in preparing the students, including one-on-one character development.

Some of the students analyzed the play in Ask’s “Introduction to Theater” class prior to the start of rehearsals.

“We were really pumped to do it,” Bradley said.

Still, the collective stress level to learn the play in a little more than a month has been pretty high, Bradley said.

But there’s been no shortage of having fun in the process.

Tamika Nastali plays the part of Teddy Brewster, the brother of Jonathan and Mortimer who thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt.

“It’s pretty fun actually,” Nastali said. “He thinks he’s the president. I get to be in charge and everything.

“He’s off in his own world. He’s not all there.”

Becoming another character onstage is what Wertz also enjoys about theater. He describes himself as more introverted offstage. But when he’s around his drama club family, he feels he can cut loose.

“I like the role a lot,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed villain characters in shows.”

Wertz and others also can now enjoy their parts without projecting their voices over the hum of the performing arts center’s old HVAC unit.

It was replaced over the summer with a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system that no longer makes voices on stage hard to hear.

“If you can imagine the heater in your house amplified by 500,” Bradley said.

But now the focus is on just what’s happening onstage, which the cast hopes will be memorable this month.

The show will take place at 7 p.m. March 3, 4, 10 and 11.

Tickets are $6 for adults and free for seniors 62 and over and Coupeville students in grades 6-12 with an ASB card. Other student prices vary.

Desirae Bradley, left, and Bree Daigneault of Coupeville High School’s Wolf PAC Theatre Troupe rehearse lines for “Arsenic and Old Lace” at Coupeville’s Performing Arts Center Monday night, Feb. 27, 2017. Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Tamika Nastali bursts out in laughter after sounding a horn during Coupeville High School’s Wolf PAC Theatre Troupe rehearsal for “Arsenic and Old Lace” at Coupeville’s Performing Arts Center Monday night, Feb. 27, 2017. Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Desirae Bradley, left, and Bree Daigneault of Coupeville High School’s Wolf PAC Theatre Troupe rehearse lines for “Arsenic and Old Lace” at Coupeville’s Performing Arts Center Monday night, Feb. 27, 2017. Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Eric Wertz of Coupeville High School’s Wolf PAC Theatre Troupe rehearses for “Arsenic and Old Lace” at Coupeville’s Performing Arts Center Monday night, Feb. 27, 2017. Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Bree Daigneault of Coupeville High School’s Wolf PAC Theatre Troupe prepares to rehearse lines for “Arsenic and Old Lace” at Coupeville’s Performing Arts Center Monday night, Feb. 27, 2017. Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Advisor Peg Tennant speaks to cast members of Coupeville High School’s Wolf PAC Theatre Troupe during rehearsal for “Arsenic and Old Lace” at Coupeville’s Performing Arts Center Monday night, Feb. 27, 2017. Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Members of Coupeville High School’s Wolf PAC Theatre Troupe go over a prop during rehearsal for “Arsenic and Old Lace” at Coupeville’s Performing Arts Center Monday night, Feb. 27, 2017. Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Desirae Bradley, left, and Bree Daigneault of Coupeville High School’s Wolf PAC Theatre Troupe rehearse lines for “Arsenic and Old Lace” at Coupeville’s Performing Arts Center Monday night, Feb. 27, 2017. Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Members of Coupeville High School’s Wolf PAC Theatre Troupe rehearse for “Arsenic and Old Lace” at Coupeville’s Performing Arts Center Monday night, Feb. 27, 2017. Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

More in Life

Sharing her passion for rowing

‘I have always loved being on the water’ — Cece Aguda

Photo by Maria Matson/Whidbey News Group.
                                <em>Cornet Bay Company owners Arnie and Joanne Deckwa stand with their new seafood line of sauces. In the background, painted on their RV is the company’s logo depicting Cornet Bay, the view across from their office.</em>
Walmart picks up Cornet Bay Co.’s sauces

Though it’s been producing and selling gourmet sauces, dressing, seasonings and dips… Continue reading

4-H Rally Day emphasizes diverse activities

The nation’s largest youth development and mentoring organization is looking for some… Continue reading

Museum debuts history tour

Fundraiser combines talks, walk and wine tasting

Captured beauty

Photo of Useless Bay selected for cover of Land Trust calendar

Suva sails away with awards at boat festival

Schooner ‘People’s Choice’ at Seattle wooden boat festival

Haunting of Coupeville: Events throughout the month offer thrills, chills

On Monday morning, Coupeville residents awoke to find their quaint, seaside town… Continue reading

Autumn flavors: Whidbey offers perfect fall ingredients for your table

A chill is in the air and farmers markets are overflowing with… Continue reading

Society shaking the family tree

Langley Archive and Research Center to help search for family history

Cider Fest rules!

Sept. 29 event features freshly-pressed juice, food, music, fun for kids

Photo by Maria Matson / Whidbey News-Times
                                <em>Whidbey Island resident Dick Evans will be signing and selling copies of his book, “Fazkils,” at the Clinton Community Hall on Saturday.</em>
In a new book, Hollywood actor, author reflects on his life, career

Richard “Dick” Evans is an actor, writer and director with a long… Continue reading

Virtuosos join forces at Djangofest

At 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23, Grammy-winning classical guitarist Jason Vieaux will… Continue reading