71 pages 2 hours read

Joseph Kesselring

Arsenic and Old Lace

Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 1941

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more. For select classroom titles, we also provide Teaching Guides with discussion and quiz questions to prompt student engagement.

Act I

Act Summaries & Analyses

Act I Summary

Matriarch Abby Brewster talks with the local Reverend Dr. Harper about the atrocities of World War II. The mention of geopolitical conflict upsets her nephew Teddy Brewster, who believes he is President Theodore Roosevelt. As she calms Teddy, Reverend Harper expresses wariness towards her other nephew, Mortimer Brewster, a theater critic who is in a serious relationship with his daughter, Elaine. Harper worries that Mortimer’s proximity to the theatrical community will expose Elaine to unsavory characters. As they continue chatting, they are greeted by Officers Brophy and Klein, who are collecting toys Abby and her sister Martha prepared for donation. The men discuss the sisters’ remarkable warmth. Reverend Harper states “if I know what pure kindness and absolute generosity are, it’s because I’ve known the Brewster sisters” (9). Before leaving, Harper gives the sisters papers to sign. These will ensure that Teddy is committed to Happy Dale Sanitarium after they pass away.

After the men leave, the sisters send Teddy to the cellar to go to “Panama” and “dig another lock for the canal” (13). As he excitedly runs off, Abby tells Martha to look in the window seat. Before she can, she is greeted by Elaine, who is waiting for Mortimer to take her to a play.