Max Frisch wrote "The Arsonists" just after World War II to ask a simple question: How did Germany let the Nazis take over with such ease? Frank Theatre offers an invigorating, 21st-century take, where the fire starters never lie about wanting to burn your house down.
Homes are burning in every neighborhood. The story is the samee: A stranger knocks, asking for a place to stay for the night, and the following morning the home is in flames.
Businessman Gottlieb Biedermann thinks he is made of sterner stuff, but then a stranger knocks at his door. He's an out-of-work wrestler named Joe, looking for a place to stay and — considering his soot-stained clothes and face — burn down the house. In the moment, Biedermann doesn't want to appear heartless, and lets him stay.
As Joe and his cronies work out their plan, they never lie about their intentions. The attic is soon full of gasoline drums and kindling. All that's needed is a match, and Joe wants the spark to come from Biedermann.
Wendy Knox crafts a thoroughly uncomfortable comedy centered on exaggerated, grotesque characters. Her actors provide them. Comic mastermind Jay Albright uses pinpoint timing to wring the most out of the increasingly manic Biedermann, and Jefferson Slinkard offers a cool, soothing contrast as the fire-loving Joe.
From the ineffectual firefighting chorus to the piles of gasoline drums that flank Biedermann's house, "The Arsonists" keeps its message on the surface. The engrossing performances and sharp production makes it work.