Meet the “Arsenic and Old Lace” cast: Director George Popovich sees a bit of the Coen Brothers in this comedy

George Popovich, director of CTH's "Arsenic and Old Lace."

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The Community Theatre of Howell’s production of “Arsenic and Old Lace” takes the stage Jan. 25-27 and Feb. 1-3. All this week, we’ve been introducing you to members of the production.

George Popovich has been involved with scores of productions through the years as a director, but he has a special place in his theatrical heart for “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

“While ‘AOL’ is packaged in a funny, amiable comedy, it is also a darkly wicked satire,” said Popovich, who is directing CTH’s production. “By turning the idea of charity on its head, the author forces us to reconsider just what constitutes a good deed. The idea that murder and death can come in attractive and seemingly harmless packages is also played for laughs and is still one of the major themes of modern art and literature. There is also a pretty good swipe at the family here. Just how far is one willing to go to protect one’s family?

“What do you do with ‘black sheep’ in a family? I also see the beginnings in ‘Arsenic’ of the modern black comedy film, especially those films by directors like the Coen Brothers.”

“Arsenic and Old Lace” is a black comedy that’s the tale of two spinster aunts who have taken to poisoning lonely old men with elderberry wine laced with arsenic. When their nephew, Mortimer Brewster, finds out, he’s tasked with trying to stop them, while at the same time dealing with his crazy family.

Popovich was the full-time Director of Theatre at Henry Ford College in Dearborn from 1985-2017 before retiring from the position. He’s currently an adjunct instructor in the theatre program at HFC and the producing artistic director of the HFC Theatre season.

Since retiring two years ago, he’s been directing a number of plays in the area, including “Almost, Maine” for CTH in August 2018 and “Shakespeare In Love” for Peppermint Creek Theatre Company in October 2018 in Lansing.

He’s a graduate of MSU’s Master Gardener Program and spends much of the summer volunteering for various community projects.

“I have spent a great deal of time trying to locate the church and town where my father was born in Serbia,” Popovich said. “He was born in 1919, so records and other info have been hard to find. My father was a first-generation American. This summer, I plan to journey with my daughter to Serbia and locate a part of my history.”

Popovich said he’s had a number of memorable experiences in the theater throughout his career.

“One of the key programs I created at Henry Ford was called The Virtual Theatricality Lab,” he said. “This was in the early ‘90s.The VTL integrated traditional stagecraft with virtual characters, scenery and props for live theater production. We used computer science, art, music, theater, dance, film, and video to create unique productions that the audience experienced in 3D stereo, wearing 3D cinema glasses.

“‘The Tempest’ (2003) used 3D stereoscopic projection and real-time VR navigated scenery to give new life and meaning to Shakespeare’s classic and make it accessible to a new generation of theatre-goers. ‘The Tempest’ was a regional winner in The Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival. ‘The Skriker’ (2006) was the first full-length theatrical production of a stage play to successfully combine real-time motion capture and 3D stereoscopic projection.

“The Royal Shakespeare Company produced a production of ‘The Tempest’ in 2016, 10 years after ‘The Skriker.’ ‘Dinosaurs!’ (2014), a children’s show, had the audience seated onstage, surrounded by a physical set that matched the virtual set projected on the 20-by-60-foot 3-D projector screen. The dinosaurs appeared to be 20-feet-tall and 6 feet from the closest spectator – and were complemented by several 4-D effects that really made the experience come to life.”

Popovich became involved with CTH when his daughter was cast in “Charlotte’s Web” in 2009. A few years later, the group had convinced him to direct for them. And he has more planned.

“I can tell you for sure I will be directing the thriller ‘Wait Until Dark’ for CTH next February (2020),” he said. “Really looking forward to that. Got some wild things planned! I also will be helping CTH stage their Black Box series onstage instead of in their green room. The CTH stage is a perfect size to set the audience onstage. It will be a fun challenge for CTH directors, crew, and actors as they will be performing in an arena space instead of a traditional proscenium. Everything will be different — the staging, scenery, and lighting.”

The Community Theatre of Howell is presenting “Arsenic and Old Lace” at the Howell High School Freshman Campus, 1400 W. Grand River Ave., Howell. Shows are Jan. 25-27 and Feb. 1-3, with showtimes at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with a matinees at 2 p.m. Sunday each weekend.

Tickets are $13 for adults, $11 for students and seniors, available at Finding Roots in Howell, Maria’s School of Dance in Fowlerville, Big Acre in Brighton, and Ed Bock Feed and Seed in Pinckney. Tickets are also available by calling 517-545-1290, or online at cththeatre.org. You can buy tickets by clicking here.

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About Buddy Moorehouse 195 Articles
Longtime Livingston County journalist Buddy Moorehouse is director of communications at the Michigan Association of Public School Academies.

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