Life on the fourth floor can get pretty dramatic (urgent request! interview cancelled! event emergency!), so we love the opportunity to sit back and watch the theatrics unfold on stage, rather than in our everyday lives. Last night we hit the opening night performance of Canadian Stage‘s wickedly funny farce, The Arsonists, on stage now through December 9 at the Bluma Appel Theatre.
The Arsonists set, designed by Ken MacDonald. Photo by Bruce Zinger
The play is set in an unnamed town plagued by a group of arsonists who charm their way into houses and then burn them down. Biedermann (Michael Ball) is a well-to-do homeowner whose evening is interrupted when a mysterious and burly stranger named Schmitz (Dan Chameroy) knocks on his door. Cunningly praising Biedermann’s humanity, the stranger appeals to his humanity (or guilt) and is invited into the home.
Schmitz soon invites his even stranger friend Eisenring (Shawn Wright) to join him and the pair move into the attic, blatantly setting the stage for a fire. They up the creepy factor as Eisenring cackles about setting up detonators and purchasing fire starter. Biedermann, suspecting (or maybe even knowing) the strangers are arsonists, chooses to ignore the signs, even as they become indisputable. Neither Biedermann nor his wife, Babette (Fiona Reid) want to risk offending anyone or igniting the spark that will (literally) blow up the entire house.
Shawn Wright and Michael Ball. Photo by Bruce Zinger
What makes the play most interesting is the context. It was written by Max Frisch, a Swiss writer, less than a decade after the second World War. As Biedermann and his wife Babette watch the arsonists set up camp in their attic and are too mannerly, afraid or self-conscious to pass judgement or do anything about it, the parallels between Swiss neutrality, or even a modern contexts where people stay silent or complacent when faced with evil, are unmistakable.
The cast of The Arsonists
Now, don’t let the serious message or the fact that the script was written in 1953 fool you: written as a political farce, the play is funny. Actually funny, we promise. We were laughing out loud, and there are plenty of smart (albeit dark) jokes during the performance.
Shawn Wright and Dan Chameroy. Photo by Bruce Zinger
We especially loved the on-stage musicians, led by local songwriter Justin Rutledge, who act as a chorus throughout the play. The music has a Brit-rock feel, and provides a fun and unique narration between the scenes. Have a listen:
The set is the beautiful home where the Biedermanns and their maid (Sheila McCarthy) whisper about the arsonists from their living room, while you watch the arsonists (up to no good) in the adjacent attic. The changing lighting on the backdrop reflects the activities outside the house, and the sound of distant sirens echoes throughout the theatre, reinforcing the atmosphere of fear and chaos in the town.
We highly recommend the play for a night out. The show runs until December 9 and tickets begin at $24 (available by phone 416.368.3110, in person at the box office or online at canadianstage.com). Also, Canadian Stage has just introduced a ticketing app that lets you buy tickets – and reserve seats for your friends – through Facebook! To celebrate, they are offering $20 tickets for tonight’s show, and buy-one-get-one-free tickets for shows this weekend. Only available to Canadian Stage’s Facebook friends, so “like” that shit!
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Sheila McCarthy in The Arsonists. Photo by Bruce Zinger.