The Firebugs: Subtle as a Sledgehammer
As far as heavy-handed analogies for the rise of Nazism go, Max Frisch's The Firebugs (a 1953 German radio play later adapted for stage and television) ranks somewhere on the subtle scale between major dental surgery and a sledgehammer to the face. In a town beset by rampant arson, a wealthy couple takes in a charming homeless man. When the man and his sinister friend begin assembling a device in their attic—barrels of gasoline, blasting caps, and very long fuses are involved—the couple are too polite and too scared to say anything, and they eventually become accomplices in the destruction of their own home and village.
While "subtle" simply can't be a primary production value, STAGEright's Firebugs is surprisingly nuanced and funny. Zandi Carlson's aforementioned sinister hobo occasionally lets out with a heavy, menacing chuckle as he explains to the wealthy homeowner (Robert Hinds's Biedermann is an overwhelmed straight man, a comic lead character in a farce that accidentally turns serious) exactly how he is going to blow up his house. But Carlson plays him as a dignified goon, a morally wounded anarchist who believes that only fire can level distinctions of class. Biedermann first dismisses the talk as a joke—while he explains that "there will always be a rich and poor, thank God," he believes he is doing the upright thing by trying to understand the puzzling humor of the lower classes—and then he thinks that by playing along he can discourage their plan. Ultimately, he's just another slump-shouldered victim.
Brendan Mack's set design makes the most of Odd Duck's tiny space—the stage is divided in two, with a tiered attic stage raised above—but some clumsy lighting from director John Huddlestun and Colin Madison occasionally fails to demarcate the crazy-eyed upstairs/downstairs differences. As the play builds toward an inevitable explosion and the Greek chorus of firefighters becomes more and more exasperated at the inaction of the protagonists, everything comes together in a satisfying way. Happily, on the evening that I attended the play, no one in the audience was clubbed to death by metaphor.