REVIEWSREVIEWS BYTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

The Arsonists


By Max Frischtrap door theatre

Adapted by Alistair Bead

Directed by Victor Quezada-Perez

At Trap Door Theatre, Chicago

Stylistic clowning highlights Swiss playwright’s parable

While studying in Paris, Trap Door artistic director Beata Pilch witnessed an amazing theatrical experience at the hands of Cie Umbral  Theatre that, under the direction of Clowning Master and Director Victor Quezada-Perez. This clowning troupe so impressed Pilch that she coaxed Quezada-Perez to come to Chicago and direct Swiss playwright Max Frisch’s The Arsonists. The result is a magical theatrical experience that begs to be seen.

trap door theatre

The combination of having all the players and musicians performing (and looking like clowns) utilizing the physical gesture and practices of European Clowning techniques together with ample use of Quezada-Perez’s invention of “la mise en clown” style of theatre makes for a special theatrical experience.  The cast of  mostly Trap Door ensemble members, eagerly have taken to the expressionist style of clowning as evident in their  most engaging production of  The Arsonists. The physicality of movement from unique walking to hand and arm gestures with speaking styles make this clowning something special. It adds another layer of meaning, humor, satire and/or pathos to the play. This intriguing style quickly engages us and it keeps us wondering not only what will happen but how it will unfold.

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The Arsonists is Swiss playwright Max Frisch’s (1911-1991) parable about accommodating the very thing that will destroy you. It finds Mr. Biederman (Bob Wilson) naively embracing Schmitz (David Steiger), a homeless man by allowing him to live in his attic. Living in a tepid society, Biederman refuses to question his obvious exploitation by Schmitz and his fellow conspirator, Eisenring (Michael Doonan0  who joins Schmitz in the attic. Anna (John Kahara) and Babette (Tiffany Bedwell), Bierderman’s wife warn him that the two vagrants could be arsonists. But despite Bierderman’s knowledge of petrol and explosives brought into his attic by the two characters , he refuses to heed to the potential disaster.

Infused with songs by the firemen and the cast, The Arsonists is 105 minutes of worthy, stylistic theatre. The clowning techniques by the dedicated players was amazing. It seemed like they have been practicing European Clowning for years. The supporting players, like Noah Durham, as the policeman, etc. was particularly effective.  Bob Wilson played Bierderman with an unattached naivete while David Steiger and Michael Doonan played the arsonists with manic determination. The acting and clowning plus the weirdly fine music made Trap Door’s production sizzle. For serious theatre lovers, seeing Victor Quezada-Perez ‘s clowning and directing style becomes a “I’m glad I saw it” experience. For  those thespians interested in European clowning, The Arsonists is a must see event.  For those brave souls who yearn for something quite different, The Arsonists offers enough to please.


Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

For more info checkout The Arsonists page at

At Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland Ave., Chicago, IL, call 773-384-0494,, tickets $20 with 2 for 1 on Thursdays, $25 on Saturdays, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, running time is 1 hour, 45 minutes without intermission, through November 17, 2012

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