The Arsonists Review- A Slow Burn to Evil

Robert Kauzlaric

First written in the afterglow of World War II by Swiss playwright Max Frisch, The Arsonists is a modern adaptation (by Alistair Beaton) of a post war absurdist fable involving a series of arsons in an unnamed city.  To the great frustration of the Fire Brigade (a Greek style chorus that welcomes each un-torched morning as a miracle), the arsonists set their fires from the inside after first being welcomed into a citizen’s home.  Ruthless businessman Biedermann vows not to fall into that trap but soon does just that by allowing a former wrestler to manipulate his way into his home.  One visitor becomes two and before you know it they are stacking barrels of petrol and linking them with fuses and detonators.  Biedermann first confronts and then desperately attempts to befriend the men all the while refusing to believe they are who they say they are.  

Sarah Goeden and Scott Danielson

Whereas the original play appears more focused on a single specific threat (the Nazis), these arsonists appear a suitable stand in for our current fears (like global warming, terrorism, or, in light of recent news, riots in the street).  Director Matt Hawkins also does everything in his power to fully bring Max’s vision into the 21st century with both subtle and more overt touches such as his frequent accenting of scenes with instrumental pop interludes by artists such as Soundgarden.  This mostly succeeds as a counterweight to the sometimes dense material.  The cast is also very capable with the arsonists (as played by Ira Amyx and Scott Danielson) offering just the right amount of guile, implied violence, and humor.  Robert Kauzlaric (as Biedermann) does a great slow burn into unbelieving madness and Sarah Goeden (as his wife Babette) breaks down with the best of them.  Rebecca Wolfe also does a very good job as Anna, the couple’s long suffering maid who reluctantly goes along with the madness.

Scottie Caldwell, Jared Fernley, Mike Ooi, Lea Pascal, Blair Robertson, Neal Starbird, and Robert Vignission

The lure of evil today is no less than it was yesterday.  And often times the most evil of acts is given with great fanfare and done with precise warning.  Sometimes the next best thing to standing up to the devil is the simple act of not going along with the plan.

Bottom Line:  Strawdog Theatre Company’s “The Arsonists” is recommended and is playing through September 27th at 3829 N. Broadyway, Thursday – Saturday 8 PM, Sunday at 4 PM.  Tickets can be purchased here or by calling 773-528-9696.  For more theater reviews go to theaterinchicago.

Ira Amyx, Robert Kauzlaric,Sarah Goeden, and Rebecca Wolfe

Photos by:  Chris Ocken 

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