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'Arsenic and Old Lace' actor Tim Hull likes roles that are straight-up hilarious

Evender Hodges plays Elaine and Timothy Hull is Mortimer in Arsenic and Old Lace.
Evender Hodges plays Elaine and Timothy Hull is Mortimer in Arsenic and Old Lace.

Tim Hull likes acting in comedies, though he doesn't necessarily have to be the one getting the laughs.

"I kind of prefer playing the straight man," says Hull, whose Lexington area stage resume includes roles such as Richard Hannay in Studio Players' production of The 39 Steps and as Crumpet the Elf in Actors Guild of Lexington's presentation of the one-man show, The SantaLand Diaries.

This weekend, he takes on a theater icon in The Woodford Theatre's production of Joseph Kesselring's classic Arsenic and Old Lace. Hull plays Mortimer, a character who, like Richard and Crumpet, deals with chaos and crazy characters around him.

"I get a particular kick out of working with someone doing something crazy, looking at them and creating a moment of hilarity," Hull says.

And he has plenty of opportunities to do that in Arsenic, a play that starts with two little old ladies, Mortimer's aunts, who are killing off lonely old men by serving them wine laced with arsenic, strychnine and a pinch of cyanide.

They view the killings as an act of compassion, but Mortimer knows the police will view it differently. Mortimer also has to deal with some cops and his brother Teddy, who thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt and buries the aunts' victims in the basement believing they are casualties of yellow fever; homicidal brother Jonathan, whose reconstructive surgery makes him look like horror movie star Boris Karloff; and his fiancee, whom he is trying to shield from all the chaos.

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The play, written in 1939, has been a staple of community theater ever since, thanks in large part to the 1944 movie starring Cary Grant as Mortimer.

But Hull has steered clear of the show, for the most part, save for seeing a production that his mother, Barbara Hull, directed when she was the drama teacher at Bryan Station High School. When Woodford Theatre announced that Arsenic would open its season, Hull decided to give the movie a look. "I liked it OK," he said, "but Cary Grant's performance bothered me. He was doing a bunch of clichéd, crazy, comic stuff that was a bit out of place."

Hull, who is prominently featured in a current TV ad for Clark Legacy Center, prefers to play it straighter.

"You have to have someone presenting the normalcy in the play and then reacting off what happens."

For his money, he has some great and familiar company to react to, including Melissa Wilkerson and Sharon Sikorski as his compassionately homicidal aunts.

"They're doing great," Hull says. "Of course, they have great comic timing, and their sweetness just makes it funnier."

He says Shayne Brakefield as Jonathan and Carmen Geraci as Dr. Einstein, who created Jonathan's stunning transformation, are a hilarious duo.

And now that he has had a chance to spend time with Arsenic and Old Lace, he has gained a sense of its appeal, which has now endured 76 years.

"I don't know if the term 'serial killer' was around, then," Hull says. "It's just funny that you have this seemingly normal house, with these sweet old ladies, and then you sprinkle this element of horror on top. It just makes for great comedy."

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