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The Scarlet & Black

Arsonists opens next week

A staging of “The Arsonists” by the Grinnell Community Theater will be opening next week in the Loft Theatre at the Grinnell Arts Center. Originally a German radio play, “The Arsonists” explores the inaction of regular citizens and how it may lead to catastrophe. The play’s protagonist is Biedermann, an ordinary man of integrity who is confronted with disaster as a series of arson attacks aggravates his community.

“[Biedermann] is very critical of all of these arson attacks that have been happening in his community,” said Samantha Newport, the play’s director. “There’s a very predictable way in which [disasters] all happen, and how can people not see it coming? Then he lets it happen to himself, completely unwilling to admit that he’s one of the ones who’ve been taken in, and the danger that he’s brought on his home and everyone around him.”

Written in the aftermath of World War II, “The Arsonists” was largely a response to Nazism. Though Newport believes this historical context is important, the themes of the play have lasting impact and relevance.

“As long as good people continue to close their eyes to terrible things happening around them, I think it will continue to be relevant,” Newport said. “There’s a Greek chorus of firefighters that patrol the periphery of the show, and the chorus leader has the line: ‘If the thought of radical change scares you more than the thought of disaster, what can you do to stop the disaster?’”

Despite the serious themes of “The Arsonists,” the play is a black comedy.

“It’s really, really funny. Watching Biedermann get duped over and over and over again and his determination to not believe the truth or to act on the truth is hilarious,” Newport said.

The production utilizes the Loft Theatre like never before, taking advantage of the new black box space to closely involve the audience with the performance.

“I was really excited to try the alley court configuration, with the audience on two sides,” Newport said. “I love the idea of the audience being able to look through the action and see one another, to hold one another accountable in a way.”

The production features a host of members of the Grinnell College community, with Luke Saunders ’12 as Biedermann, Career Counselor Kelly Guilbeau as his wife Babette, Admission Counselor Rebecca Patch as the maid, and Shane Donegan of Grinnell High School and Jackson Menner ’13 as the two arsonists, Schmitz and Eisenring.

The Arsonists will be playing at the Loft Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19 through Saturday, Feb. 21, with a 2 p.m. matinee performance on Sunday, Feb. 22. Tickets are $5 for students and $15 for adults, and can be purchased at Brown’s Shoe Fit, McNally’s and the Grinnell Arts Center.

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