Bloomsburg University’s Hot New Theater Production

Fans of explosions, absurdity, and gut-busting hilarity should grab their fire helmets and prepare for a show filled to the brim with theatrical chaos! The Bloomsburg University Players are getting ready to put on yet another exciting performance for their Fall Mainstage Production of “The Arsonists” by Max Frisch, who subtitled the play “A Moral Play without a Moral.” A wondrously shrewd and darkly comical tale, “The Arsonists” tells the story of a wealthy and upstanding member of a community that is being terrorized by arsonists. Who is setting these people’s homes ablaze? Why have they not been caught and prosecuted? One local businessman is tired of these criminals getting their way, and he for one thinks something ought to be done about it. But first, he must deal with the two mysterious guests staying in his attic…

“The Arsonists” will be performed downtown at the Alvina Krause Theatre, 226 Center Street. Tickets are free for Bloomsburg University students with their ID and will be sold at Haas Center for the Arts Box Office or at the door starting one hour before curtain. It will be staged from Wednesday, Nov. 1 through Sunday, Nov. 5. Performances will begin at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and at 3 p.m. on Sunday. It is being directed by David A. Miller, who has previously directed shows such as “Harvey”, “Macbeth”, “Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom”, and stars upcoming freshman Noah Eisengrein as well as Jon Schultz, Toni Carosella, Kendall Baird, and Carly Carman, all of whom some may remember from past performances such as “Rocky Horror Show” and “Harvey.”

The play was originally called “Biedermann and the Firebugs,” and it premiered at the Royal Court in the U.K. in 1961. It was given a modern translation in 2007 by Alistair Beaton under the name of “The Arsonists.” This version also premiered at the Royal Court that same year. The 1948 sketch that would eventually become the play was written by Frisch in response to the communist takeover of Prague, Czechoslovakia. However, it is also commonly linked to the fascist and Nazi takeovers occurring during the same period. That sketch told the story through a first-person perspective of what would become the plays main character, Biedermann: a German word that loosely translates to “the worthy man.”

Biedermann is faced with a predicament when he allows two strangers to stay at his house despite the recent barrage of fires set by arsonists whom are notorious for finding ways of being invited into people’s homes. He does not want to be rude and send them out on the street, and they can’t be arsonists because they are Biedermann’s trusted friends! This parable of the common man allowing evil done onto him highlights the fickleness of human nature and demonstrates the consequences of being passive in the face of wickedness disguised as friendliness. “The Arsonists” spares no expense at driving home the unrelenting irony of Biedermann’s refusal to acknowledge the inconvenient staring him right in the face, instead favoring to remain self-assured of his good-nature by accommodating his “guests.”

“The Arsonists” deals with serious themes that permeate life. The play may have been written with regards to specific political issues of its time but they are still poignantly relevant in the chaotic socio-political state of affairs we find ourselves in today, particularly in America. The issues the characters face are applicable to many facets of human interaction, but are perhaps most prevalently how we respond to conflict. The play’s relevance to our lives today was an important factor in its selection. During an interview with Director David A. Miller, he told me:

“I think the one of the biggest challenges in America right now is that it’s very divided. I think that’s where this play asks some good questions. There is a lot of ‘us versus them’ mentality from both sides of the fence. This play is a good demonstration of what is going to happen if everybody only thinks of ‘us versus them’” instead of ‘we’. It’s a cautionary tale for all of us in the United States.”

Perhaps the biggest draws for “The Arsonists” is its versatility as a play. On the surface, it is a wacky play with laugh-out-loud moments and colorful characters, but underneath lies a truly dark and telling story. The absurd nature of the show is not lost on its characters or its jokes. There are fourth wall breaks, non-sequiturs, and moments that make almost no sense at all but none of it is without scrupulous purpose. This allows it to be simultaneously up-beat and dark, giving it a tone that brilliantly reflects the utter strangeness seemingly fundamental to each of our lives. Audiences will undoubtedly find themselves laughing hysterically, almost forgetting what bleakness will assuredly arise and reaching the ultimate catharsis when it all “blows up.”

Working on the show, I can personally tell you what a privilege it is to be a part of. Every theatrical project comes with hard work and dedication, but is nevertheless a joy to work on. It would be an understatement to say that “The Arsonists” is no exception; rather, it is a particularly special case.

“It’s been a very fun process to work through! It’s different from so many things that we’ve done here. It is something that college students could really benefit from seeing.” – Kendall Baird (Anna)

“This has been the most interesting time I’ve had putting a show together. Even as we figure things out and things become clearer they become more interesting and pertinent to today’s world.” – John Schultz (Schmitz)

If you have a chance to come down to Alvina Krause Theatre during the first week of November, you will not want to miss “The Arsonists!”

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