The Arsonists


  • by Max Frisch
  • newly translated by Alistair Beaton
  • directed by Michael John Garcés
  • Approximately two hours and fifteen minutes with an intermission

The world may be starting to burn, but Biedermann has it all under control. He's a respected member of his community with a loving wife and a flourishing business, so surely the arsonists will spare him. As an upstanding citizen, he’s even happy to do his civic duty by opening his home to two new guests… but when they start filling his attic with drums of gasoline, will he end up starting the fire himself?

Written as a reflection on the rise of both Nazism and Communism, The Arsonists has uncanny new relevance today in light of the rise of populist nationalism around the globe. For Woolly’s incendiary take on Max Frisch’s classic political drama, artistic director Howard Shalwitz will be making his long-awaited return to the Woolly stage as Biedermann. Directed by company member Michael John Garcés and starring company members Kimberly Gilbert, Tim Getman, and Emily Townley, The Arsonists will light the fuse on the theater’s 38th season.

Featuring company members Tim Getman, Kimberly Gilbert, and Emily Townley and artistic director Howard Shalwitz

The Arsonists is made possible by a generous grant from The Roy Cockrum Foundation.

"Timeless political satire."

The Guardian

About the Playwright: Max Frisch

MAX FRISCH (1911–1991) (Playwright) was a Swiss dramatist and novelist, noted for his depictions of the moral dilemmas of 20th-century life. Frisch's works focused on problems of identity, individuality, responsibility, morality, and political commitment. His use of irony is a significant feature of his post-WWII publications. Frisch's play Santa Cruz (1947) established the central theme found throughout his subsequent works: the predicament of the complicated, skeptical individual in modern society. One of Frisch's earliest dramas is the morality play Nun singen sie wieder (1946; Now They Sing Again), in which Surrealistic tableaux reveal the effects caused by hostages being assassinated by German Nazis. His other historical melodramas include Die chinesische Mauer (1947; The Chinese Wall) and the bleak Als der Krieg zu Ende war (1949; When the War Was Over). Reality and dream are used to depict the terrorist fantasies of a responsible government prosecutor in Graf Öderland (1951; Count Oederland), while Don Juan oder die Liebe zur Geometrie (1953; Don Juan, or The Love of Geometry) is a reinterpretation of the legend of the famous lover of that name. Frisch’s later plays include Andorra (1961), with its theme of collective guilt, and Biografie (1967; Biography), which deals with social relationships and their limitations. Frisch's early novels Stiller (1954; I'm Not Stiller), Homo Faber (1957), and Mein Name sei Gantenbein (1964; A Wilderness of Mirrors) portray aspects of modern intellectual life and examine the theme of identity. His autobiographical works include two noteworthy diaries, Tagebuch 1946–1949 (1950; Sketchbook 1946–1949) and Tagebuch 1966–1971 (1972; Sketchbook 1966–1971). His later novels include Montauk: Eine Erzählung (1975), Der Mensch erscheint im Holozän (1979; Man in the Holocene), and Blaubart (1982; Bluebeard). He was awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1986 and passed away in 1991.

About the Translator: Alistair Beaton

ALISTAIR BEATON (Translator) is regarded as one of Britain’s top political satirists. He was born in Glasgow and educated at the Universities of Edinburgh, Moscow and Bochum, graduating from Edinburgh University with First Class Honours in Russian and German. He speaks fluent German, Russian and French and in 2007 his translation of The Arsonists by Max Frisch was staged at the Royal Court Theatre. He is a well-known voice on BBC Radio 4, having presented several series of Fourth Column as well as a number of other programmes including The Beaton Generation. He appears on programmes as diverse as Any Questions, The News Quiz, PM, Quote Unquote, and The Today Programme.

Alistair also wrote the award-winning television film A Very Social Secretary about the David Blunkett affair, launching More4 in 2005. This was followed in 2007 by the Channel 4 film The Trial of Tony Blair, winner of the Broadcasting Press Guild Awards for Best Single Drama and nominated for a BAFTA. He is the author of the hit West End play Feelgood, which won the Evening Standard Best Comedy Award in 2001 and has since had successful runs in America, Canada, Germany, Denmark, Austria, Portugal, Estonia, Finland and Hungary, among many other widely produced plays.

About the Director: Michael John Garcés

MICHAEL JOHN GARCÉS (Director) is the Artistic Director of Cornerstone Theater Company in Los Angeles, where he recently directed California: The Tempest by Alison Carey. He has directed Lights Rise on Grace by Chad Beckim, We Are Proud to Present… by Jackie Sibblies Drury, The Convert by Danai Gurira, Oedipus el Rey by Luis Alfaro, and two plays by Craig Wright, Grace and Recent Tragic Events. Other recent directing credits include The Body of an American by Dan O’Brien at the Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia and Wrestling Jerusalem by Aaron Davidman at Intersection for the Arts in San Fransisco and Playmakers Rep in Chapel Hill. Work presented in the Washington DC area in the past year includes red, black and GREEN: a blues by Marc Bamuthi Joseph at the Kennedy Center and Placas by Paul Flores at Gala Hispanic Theatre.

Made possible by The Roy Cockrum Foundation