Arts & Events

“The Arsonists” at Aurora –Psychological and Virtual Fireworks Prevail

By John A. McMullen II, member, Theatre Critics Circle
Friday April 26, 2013 - 11:45:00 AM
Tim Kniffen, Dan Hiatt, Michael K. Wisely
David Allen
Tim Kniffen, Dan Hiatt, Michael K. Wisely

“The Arsonists” at Aurora Theatre on Addison in Berkeley does much outstanding work, and a lot of it happens when Mark Jackson is directing. 

The set by Nina Ball is that of a luxurious home with a revealed attic. Comfortable and tasteful without ostentation, it is believable as a place where a company owner might domicile. Its tranquility lulls us, giving us a sense of warmth and security, in perfect contrast to what precipitates in the next 90 minutes. 

Max Frisch, befriended and inspired by Brecht and influenced by the writings of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, wrote the play in 1953. When I read it a decade ago, it was called “The Firebugs,” but this is a new translation by Alistair Beaton. It smacks of class-warfare, but with a touch of psychopathology.  

When I read it a decade ago, I was intrigued, but I confess that I missed the humor. Jackson’s directing does not miss it, and it has many laughs to break the tension, with Michael K. Wisely* responsible for more than a few. 

Wisely plays a down-and-out wrestler who worms his way past the guardian housekeeper to beg shelter for the night from Dan Hiatt*, the fat-cat CEO-ish homeowner. When confronted by the wrestler bulk and bonhomie, our fat-cat is most accommodating. Soon friends (Tim Kniffen*, Kevin Clarke) join our wrestler, to the consternation of the CEO, his smiling wife (Gwen Loeb*), and distraught maid (Dina Percia) whose disgruntled and shocked comic expressions bring more smiles in the midst of impending disaster.  

A Greek-like chorus of Firefighters (Kevin Clarke, Tristan Cunningham*, Michael Uy Kelly) gives warning and echoes the audience’s fears just as they have for 2500 years. 

There are some fancy fireworks in store in the relatively small theatre, and the sound design by Matt Stines is enough to put a chill in your bones. 

It is one of those “not-to-be-missed” pieces of theatre that the Aurora does more than its share of. 

Catch it by May 12, or be sad that you missed it when you hear people rave about it at the next fête you attend! 

*-Member, Actors Equity Association