Justin Rutledge leads a scorching musical brigade in Canadian Stage’s red-hot production
Presented by Canadian Stage
Written by Max Frisch
Directed by Morris Panych
Original music by Justin Rutledge
Translation by Alistair Beaton
Sparks fly from the start of Canadian Stage’s latest show, a fiery new production of Max Frisch’s The Arsonists (1953), directed by Morris Panych with original music by singer songwriter Justin Rutledge, now on stage at the Bluma Appel Theatre.
Written shortly after WWII, the play is a parable of the rise of Nazi power in Germany and a moral investigation of human complacency in the face of evil. In this case, a town is under attack by arsonists, and residents are “blindly” letting them into their houses. One such homeowner is Biedermann (Michael Ball), a well to-do business man who is tricked by Schmitz (Dan Chameroy), a suspicious vagrant who turns up on the doorstep and talks his way into the gentleman’s living room. Within moments Schmitz is smoking Biedermann’s cigars, drinking his wine, giving orders to Anna the maid (Sheila McCarthy) and eating breakfast with his wife Babette (Fiona Reid).
But despite numerous red flags, the intimidated Biedermann allows Schmitz to stay in the attic overnight. Of course, one night turns into more, and another character, the dubious Eisenring (Shawn Wright), joins in the fun with a collection of gasoline-filled barrels and a detonator. Even then Biedermann refuses to see the truth, inviting the two criminals to a goose dinner, while the chorus of fire fighters (Christine Bougie, Sly Juhas, McCarthy and Wright led by fire chief Rutledge) watch from the sidelines as Biedermann becomes an accomplice in his own downfall.
Alistair Beaton’s English translation brings the best out of the Swiss playwright’s whip-smart script, which the cast delivers brilliantly under director Morris Panych. Featuring an intricate and angular set by designer Ken Macdonald, artful costumes but Charlotte Dean and spectacular lighting by Jason Hand, The Arsonists is visually explosive, while Rutledge’s bass-heavy rhythms set the perfect tone for this sneaky, laugh-out-loud funny satire. Another exciting, not-to-be-missed offering from Canadian Stage this season.
The Arsonists runs until Dec 9 at the Bluma Appel Theatre. Visit canadianstage.com for more information and to buy tickets.