“The Arsonists” is “explosive” spring Mainstage Production

March 3, 2017

The Arsonists by Swiss playwright Max Frisch, billed as “an explosive comedy” that also is a 1950s-era parable exploring the idea of the “innocent bystander,” will be the spring semester Mainstage Production this year at McCarthy Arts Center Theater on March 23, 24, 25, 31 and April 1, 2017 at 7 p.m. each evening.

Director and costume designer for this production is Peter Harrigan, while the scenic and lighting designer is John Paul Devlin — both of the Saint Michael’s fine arts/theatre faculty. Sound designer is Ian Underwood ’18; properties designer is Anna-Maria Forger ’17; production stage manager is Joshua Lacourse ’18. Admission is free.

Harrigan said in this play, the ironically named Biedermann (“honest man”) is rich because of his ability to exploit the innovations of his underpaid employees. To assuage his guilt, Biedermann allows two strangers to stay in his attic, despite the fact that his city has been plagued by arson. When they start to fill his attic with barrels of gasoline, Biedermann is unable to admit his fear and confront the beguiling strangers, finally giving them the matches that will set his world ablaze.

Swiss playwright Max Frisch wrote The Arsonists in 1958, in the aftermath of two World Wars, to show the danger of complacency in the face of evil, Harrigan said. “The Arsonists” is part “Everyman” and part hilarious Absurdist farce, with a “Greek Chorus” of Firefighters punctuating and commenting on the action.

“This play is a vivid, complex comic parable – particularly timely since the idea of an ‘innocent bystander’ is hotly contested right now,” Harrigan said. “If you witness something that is unjust, but don’t interrupt or report it, aren’t you really condoning or encouraging it? Frisch, the playwright, felt guilty that Switzerland considered itself to be neutral during the Second World War. But is neutrality even possible or desirable? The play is effective because it finds humor in the characters’ very human weaknesses, but still manages to ask vital, provocative questions about our responsibility as citizens.”

Cast members include: Biedermann – Pat Cornacchio ’18; Babette, his wife – Molly Lovell ’19; Anna, a maidservant – Jillian Kenny ’18; Sepp Schmitz, a wrestler – Owen Freeman ’19; Willi Eisenring, a waiter – Caleb Roman ’20; A Policeman – Sean Broderick ’19; A PhD – Josef Kranz ’18; Mrs. Knechtling – Rissa Jansky ’18; Chorus Leaders – Jenny Burke ‘19, Ian Underwood ’18; Chorus – Pat Cassidy ‘18, Beth Parsons ‘20, Katie Ort ‘20, Sophie Lizotte ’20; Kranz, Broderick and Jansky.

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