CONTACT: WINSTON BARCLAY
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0073; fax (319) 384-0024
Release: Jan. 21, 2000
Self-deception, moral responsibility fuel the flames in 'The Firebugs'
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Issues of self-deception and moral responsibility fuel
the flames in the University Theatres Mainstage production of the satiric
parable "The Firebugs" by Swiss playwright Max Frisch, Feb. 3-13
in Theatre B of the University of Iowa Theatre Building. Performances will
be at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Feb. 3-5, and Wednesday through Saturday,
Feb. 9-12, and at 3 p.m. Feb. 6, 12 and 13.
Written in 1958, Frisch's incendiary satire takes place in a town where
arsonists are wreaking terror and destruction. So what does one Gottlieb Biedermann
(which in German means "God-loving honest man") do when the firebugs
set up residence in his own attic? Confront and expose them to end their destruction
of the community, or placate them in hopes of protecting the quiet life and
security of his own family?
As a young architect and journalist during World War II, Frisch was assigned
to guard Switzerland's border with Nazi Germany, and only a few feet within
the safety of his neutral country he began to ponder the horror that was consuming
Europe. How was the insanity of Hitler's regime allowed to reach this extremity?
Was he in some way responsible? How come we seem unable to learn from the
Taking inspiration from his friendship with Bertolt Brecht and a production
of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town," Frisch chose to grapple with these
questions in "The Firebugs," even employing a modern version of
the epic Greek chorus in "The Firebugs," just as Wilder did in his
play. Because the subject of the play is arson, Frisch created a chorus of
In his denial, selfishness and complacency, his Biedermann is a clueless
but guilty Everyman, not overtly or militantly evil but complicit in the destruction
of his community and home -- a symbol to Frisch of the cowardly inaction that
made Europe an accomplice in Hitler's reign of terror. Even though he has
attempted to appease the terrorists by giving them matches, Biedermann is
unable to view himself as anything but a victim.
But the issues raised by "The Firebugs" are universal and still
timely. Frisch said he addressed "the impossibility of going on living
and at the same time retaining our morals -- a dilemma exacerbated in times
of terrorism. What instrument does terrorism use? It uses our will to live
and thus our fear of dying. . ."
So director Cheryl L. Kaplan, a graduate student in the UI department of
theatre arts from Ames, has transferred the story to America, where our dreams
of security are still rooted in the 1950s "Father Knows Best" idealism
that was contemporary with Frisch's "Firebugs."
"It is easy for Americans to view the Holocaust as something that happened
over there, and was done by those people," she says. "We think not
only that it didn't happen here, but that it couldn't happen here. I hope
that by setting the play in America, we will see that Biedermann is one of
In a half-century writing career, Frisch produced novels, memoirs and plays,
and for many years he was considered a leading contender for the Nobel Prize.
He wrote: "I would consider that I fulfilled my job as a dramatist if
a play of mine ever succeeded in posing a question in such a way as to compel
the members of the audience that, from that moment on, they were unable to
go on living without an answer."
Other artistic contributors to the UI production of "The Firebugs"
are scene designer Parit Thossilaporn, lighting designer Kelly Perkins Smith,
costume designer Loyce Arthur, sound designer Ethan Bade and dramaturgs Kristen
Gandrow and Tom Gibbons.
Tickets for "The Firebugs" are $15 ($7 for UI students, senior
citizens and youth). They may be purchased in advance from the Hancher Auditorium
box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be on sale one
hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.
Tickets may also be purchased at a substantial discount as part of University
Theatres' three-play season package. The three remaining productions in the
Mainstage season are "The Firebugs"; "Orestes 2.0" by
Charles Mee, Feb. 17-27; and Shakespeare's "The Tempest," April
Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, and 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Saturday. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319) 335-1160.
Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER.
Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American
Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills,
and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. People
with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial
(319) 335-1158. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment
who use that technology.
For UI arts news and information, and arts calendar updates, visit the ArtsIowa