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Fires are becoming something of a problem, popping up all over town, but Mr. Biedermann has it all under control. A respected member of the community, he tries to live a life of blameless middle-class decency. It is this sense of bourgeois propriety that renders Biedermann defenseless when two strangers finesse their way into his home and settle in. But when they start filling his attic with petrol drums, will he help them light the fuse? Award-winning Bay Area auteur Mark Jackson (Salomania, Metamorphosis) returns to Aurora to direct British playwright Alistair Beaton’s “rousing new interpretation of Max Frisch’s 1958 classic” that “stresses the comically deadly plight of a mild-mannered man whose failure to acknowledge the presence of evil is, in itself, the ultimate evil” (LA Times). Inspired by the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1948, this absurdist allegory satirizes the way in which people can be manipulated into accommodating their own destruction.

*Member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers
Critics are saying
A terrific cast keeps up a fine-tuned tension...Mark Jackson's vibrant production [of The Arsonists] highlights the satire's timeliness at every turn. Read Full Review »
- Robert Hurwitt
San Francisco Chronicle
Directed by Mark Jackson, 'Arsonists' burns as brightly as ever as an unsettling cautionary tale about the desire to bury one's head in the sand. Read Full Review »
- Karen D'Souza
San Jose Mercury News / Bay Area News Group
[Director Mark] Jackson's swift, 85-minute production [of The Arsonists] punches the laughs without ever losing [playwright Max] Frisch's sharp edges. Read Full Review »
- Chad Jones
What I didn’t count on was how laugh-aloud funny this translation [of The Arsonists] by Alistair Beaton would be. Unlike many other cautionary tales...this work remains vital. The questions posed...are ever relevant. Read Full Review »
- Cy Ashley Webb
Stark Insider
[The Arsonists is] a serious reminder of the consequences of denial, and director Mark Jackson, using an excellent 2007 translation by Alistair Beaton, stages the new Aurora Theatre production for maximum impact. The result is a gripping, and often searingly funny, 90-minute revival of an overlooked 20th century classic. Read Full Review »
- Georgia Rowe
The S.F. Examiner
...this clever and comedic parable about the dangers of appeasement, denial and the disturbing power of ingrained social habit, is being staged in a tight, swift, and highly entertaining production at the Aurora Theatre in Berkeley. Read Full Review »
- Elaine Beale
The Aurora production [of The Arsonists], directed by Mark Jackson, is slick and smooth, the actors excellent.... If you decide to hang out with “The Arsonists,” you’ll probably have a bang-up time. Read Full Review »
- Suzanne Weiss
Culture Vulture
At Berkeley's Aurora Theatre, The Arsonists has resurfaced as a sizzling triumph of theatricality, and a wake-up call to any who choose to be awakened. With superb performances by all in the cast of eight, Aurora's production is as gripping as is funny, and in flashes it's positively scary... engrossing and stimulating theater. Read Full Review »
- Leo Stutzin
Huffington Post
Award-winning director Mark Jackson and the other members of the production have done outstanding work...The acting, pace, sets, lighting and Alistair Beaton’s new translation all combine to modernize and enhance The Arsonists. Read Full Review »
- Emily Mendel
There's a lot of humor to be found in Alistair Beaton's crackling translation of Max Frisch's The Arsonists... Read Full Review »
- Nicole Gluckstern
San Francisco Bay Guardian Online
Director Mark Jackson's staging of [The Arsonists] is stunning... Read Full Review »
- Sam Hurwitt
The Arsonists is a delicious farce about the perils of making nice...timeless...a great group piece, with something for everyone Read Full Review »
- Rhonda Shrader
Dogmom's Dish
Brilliantly directed by Mark Jackson...The Arsonists is crisp, superbly performed and deliciously fun to muse over afterwards, at once challenging, playful, and thought-provoking. Read Full Review »
- David Templeton
North Bay Bohemian
Behind the Scenes


  • Max Frisch - Playwright
  • Alistair Beaton - Translator
  • Mark Jackson - Director
  • Kevin Clarke - Firefighter
  • Tristan Cunningham* - Firefighter
  • Dan Hiatt* - Biedermann
  • Michael Uy Kelly - Firefighter
  • Tim Kniffin* - Eisenbing
  • Gwen Loeb* - Babette
  • Dina Percia - Anna
  • Michael Ray Wisely* - Schmitz
  • Corrie Bennett* - Stage Manager
  • Nina Ball - Set Designer
  • Stephanie Buchner - Light Designer
  • Christine Crook - Costume Designer
  • Matthew Stines - Sound Designer
  • Mia Baxter - Props Artisan
DAN HIATT* performed most recently at the American Conservatory Theatre and Theatre Calgary as Peter Shirley in Major Barbara; as Stephen Hopkins in 1776 at A.C.T.; and as Capulet, Friar Laurence, and Peter in Romeo & Juliet at California Shakespeare Theatre. Other credits include The Arsonists, and Knock, Knock at the Aurora Theatre, The Rivals at A.C.T., Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at Berkeley Repertory Theatre; A Flea in Her Ear at San Jose Rep; and Upright/Grand at TheatreWorks. He has also performed at Seattle Repertory Theatre, Arizona Theatre Company, Huntington Theatre Company, Pasadena Playhouse, Ford’s Theatre, Studio Arena Theatre, and the Idaho Shakespeare Festival.
DINA PERCIA is honored to make her Aurora Theatre Company debut. Recently returning from a year adventuring in NYC, her previous Bay Area credits include: Tessa in Disassembly (Impact Theatre), Mika in Into the Clear Blue Sky (Sleepwalkers Theatre), Pookie in Pookie Goes Grenading (Playwrights Foundation's BAPF), and Ally in This World is Good (Sleepwalkers Theatre). Thanks and gratitude to the cast, crew, Mark, and the Aurora team. Love to Nathan.
GWEN LOEB* is delighted to be returning to the Aurora where she was last seen in The Arsonists and Trojan Women. Other recent productions include: Truffaldino Says No and World In A Woman’s Hands at Shotgun Players, Blastosphere at Central Works, and Lovers & Executioners at Marin Theatre Company. Gwen is a company member with PlayGround, a frequent performer with the Playwrights Foundation, and an advocate for new plays. She has had the opportunity to originate many great roles, including Zetta Stone in Dog Act by Liz Duffy Adams, Zdenka in Tva Kamila by Erin Bregman, and Annabella in Ecce Homo by Jonathan Luskin.
KEVIN CLARK is very happy to return to Aurora after his turns as Judge Darling and Oscar Wilde in last summer’s Salomania. Other recent productions include Woyzeck, God’s Plot and BEARDO (Shotgun Players) as well as the feature film TEST. With Mark Jackson, he co-directed Jackson’s adaptation of Faust Part 1 (Shotgun Players). Kevin is a company member of Shotgun Players, a frequent collaborator with choreographer Chris Black and a co-founder of the performance duo Hagen & Simone with Monique Jenkinson.
MICHAEL RAY WISELY is pleased to return to the Aurora having last appeared in Trouble in Mind as well as Devils Disciple andThe Birthday Party. Recent credits include: Henry V ( SF Shakespeare), Of Mice and Men (TheatreWorks) Arms and the Man and A Christmas Carol (Center REPertory Company) as well as appearing in notable productions at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Magic Theatre, San Jose Repertory Theatre, American Musical Theatre, Marin Theatre Company, Marin Shakespeare Company, San Jose Stage Company, Shotgun Players, Alter Theater and others. He has starred and guest-starred in television movies and series (including hosting a show on the DIY Network). In addition to his work as an actor, he shares the helm of a new bay area independent production company.
TIM KNIFFIN* returns to the Aurora Theatre where he has been seen in Anatol, The Best Man, Permanent Collection and Trouble In Mind, for which he received a Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle award for his portrayal of Al Manners.  Most recently, Tim played Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music at Berkeley Playhouse, Malvolio at Shakespeare Napa Valley, Bill Starbuck in 110 In The Shade and Malachy in A Couple of Blaguards at Cinnabar Theatre.  Tim is a proud member of Actors' Equity, and is very thankful to his friends and family for their unrelenting love and support.
TRISTAN CUNNINGHAM started her performing days when she was only ten with Vermont’s own country circus, Circus Smirkus. After touring for eight years, she decided to change her focus to acting and recently graduated from S.U.N.Y Purchase Acting Conservatory. Her Bay Area credits include: Julius Caesar with African American Shakespeare Company, The Road to Hades with Shotgun Players, Tenderloin with The Cutting Ball Theater, and most recently she played Puck in A Midsummer Nights Dream with The San Francisco Shakespeare Festival. She is a proud member of Actors Equity and thrilled to be working with Aurora Theater for the first time.

MICHAEL UY KELLY This is Michael's debut appearance on the Aurora stage. Recent credits include Tenderloin with Cutting Ball Theater, Road to Hades with Shotgun Players and Macho Bravado with Asian American Theater Company. A graduate of San Francisco State University's Drama program, Michael is now working on a solo Documentary Theater piece about Love and Identity.
*Member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers

Max Frisch

by Josh Costello, Literary Manager

Swiss playwright and novelist Max Frisch (1911-1991) is known for stories that examine the role of the individual in 20th century society. He wrote the first version of what would become this play in his journal in 1948, in response to the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia. Frisch had served in the Swiss army during World War II after working as a newspaper reporter; he went on to become a professional architect in Zurich before devoting himself entirely to writing. In 1952, Frisch went back to his notes and turned the story into a radio drama, and then adapted it into a stage play entitled Biedermann und die Brandstifter ("Biedermann and the Arsonists") in 1957. The play has remained one of the most-staged German-language plays ever since, and has received multiple acclaimed English-language translations as The Firebugs, The Fire Raisers, and The Arsonists.

Audiences and critics in the 1950's saw the story as a condemnation of people's complicity in their own destruction, and as such as metaphor for Communism or Nazism. When asked, Frisch was quick to point out that the arsonists in the play have no political affiliation. Even so, Frisch (who cited Bertolt Brecht as a friend and an inspiration) did see the play as a parable - by which he meant a way of getting at political issues through the medium of theatre:

"The problem with theater today-this is not my personal problem but a general one-is that we are no longer in a time or social situation where power can be shown. Now things are much more anonymous and collective. It would be wrong, for example, to show fascism only by Hitler on the stage. It doesn't fit. If the play is only about human relationships, then yes, you can do it. But if it has political implications-I tried to do it with the parable. With the parable you think-you hope-you can get a complicated reality."
-Interview by Jodi Daynard, Paris Review, 1989

By relegating specific political affiliations to the metaphorical level, Frisch was able to avoid tainting the story with the audience's preconceptions. We can laugh at Biedermann's refusal to acknowledge what is really going on when the arsonists move into his home - but we also recognize similar cowardly tendencies in ourselves. Taking a stand is hard; it is much easier to swallow a simple lie than face up to a complicated and dangerous truth. In German, the name Biedermann suggests someone who is worthy and upright (the literal translation of "bieder" is "honest") but with the implication of being conventional to the point of oafishness. By making an Everyman of Biedermann, Frisch asked his audience to consider the ways in which their own complacency could become complicity.

The play continues to ask this of us today. Another effect of the arsonists' lack of political affiliation is that the story could take place anywhere, at any time. Just as the forces of totalitarianism in the twentieth century depended upon a measure of complicity from the masses, the complacency of the twenty-first century brings its own set of consequences - from economic injustice to the erosion of civil liberties to climate change. Will this "moral play without a moral" inspire us to change our ways, or will we take Biedermann's path and willfully ignore the forces of our own destruction?
production photos
Photos by David Allen
*Member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers
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