Mosaic / Reviews / Theater / February 18, 2009

The Arstonists combined comedy and conflict

An extra showing of The Arsonists, a play by Max Frisch, directed by senior Jenny Davis, was added to Studio Theater’s schedule on Saturday night. The Arsonists follows the events and turmoil surrounding the arrival of two homeless men at the house of a man who owns a hair tonic company through the destruction of his house and town. Featuring a modern Greek chorus of firemen, the play combined comedy, class conflict, and philosophy.

The show opens with Mr. Biedermann being visited unexpectedly by a washed up wrestler who used to perform in the circus. The wrestler eventually cons his way into moving into Mr. Biedermann’s attic, against both his and his wife’s better judgment. A series of arsons has been taking place across the town, all started by mysterious, homeless men arriving, staying the night, and then burning down the house in the morning.

The first night is uneventful, though the next day the wrestler’s friend, a former waiter and inmate, arrives to stay in the attic with the wrestler. The two begin moving barrels of gasoline into the attic and installing fuses and detonators. Mr. Biedermann sees the gasoline and even helps to measure out fuses, continues to maintain that it is just an elaborate joke. The play culminates with Mr. Biedermann’s house inevitably being burned down by the homeless men, an unheard statement by a mysterious philosopher, and the knowledge that Mr. Biedermann’s former partner has committed suicide.

The actors were well prepared and very intense, particularly senior Michael Giese, the wrestler, and freshman Jack Dryden, Mr. Biedermann. All the other roles were very competently executed and the performances were engaging. The set, two floors, the attic and the dining room, with a table and chairs and armchair on the bottom floor and, later in the play, barrels of gasoline in the attic, filled the small performance space. However, much of the set, due to its size, seemed to go unused and its size also contributed to the small amount of seating (there were only 70 seats).

Additionally, though the acting was excellent, the play often felt inorganic, and the comedic timing seemed stilted in places. Overall, the play was a decent production, however, there were aspects of it that felt loose, though this may have been the result of the cast performing it twice, back to back, on Saturday night.

Ben Reeves

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