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Fire season starts July 17 at Stanford Summer Theater
The Stanford Summer Theater production of Max Frisch's Biedermann and the Firebugs, which previews July 17 and opens July 18, promises to be hot for several reasons.
One is the plot. A well-to-do businessman, Gottlieb Biedermann, lives in an upper-middle-class suburb where homes are going up in flames, the work of unknown arsonists. Biedermann invites two strangers into his house, lodges them and feeds them. Obviously, they're the firebugs -- the men store barrels of gasoline in Biedermann's house -- but he continues to be the gracious host, even, at one of the darkest moments, supplying them with matches.
For the play is also an incendiary satire -- a withering examination of bourgeois complacency, misplaced guilt and self-deception. He roundly screws over a business partner, who later commits suicide, but, driven by a sense of liberal righteousness and generosity (and the mad hope they won't set his own house ablaze), bends over backward to accommodate the firebugs.
Frisch, a Swiss playwright and novelist, lived through both world wars (he died in 1991) and was painfully aware of his nation's neutrality, as well as Europe's mousiness when it came to dealing with Hitler and the burgeoning power of his Third Reich. Written in 1958 for radio but adapted for stage and television, Biedermann reflects the Continent's slavish attempts to appease the Nazis. Yet Frisch undoubtedly understood the universality -- as well as ambiguity -- of his play's themes; he called Biedermann "a learning play without a lesson."
Rush Rehm, an associate professor of classics and drama who plays Biedermann in the Stanford production, believes the play speaks forcefully in the current climate of the United States.
"My sense is that it kind of plays on liberal guilt, a hypocrisy of standing up for certain sets of values while completely denying them at the other end," said Rehm, who is founder and production manager of Stanford Summer Theater (SST). "It's quite marvelous, and it is very funny -- a real kick in the tail."
Another reason the show should be hot is the cast, which is larger than any of the theater company's past productions. It features, among others, Kay Kostopoulos, who has performed in American Conservatory Theater and California Shakespeare Festival productions, as Babette Biedermann; and Annie Abrams, a Stanford undergraduate who played Ela in TheatreWorks' recent production of Charley's Aunt, as Anna, the maid. The firebugs are played by Jarek Truszczynski, a veteran of the Polish National Theater who played the Old Man in The Chairs and Gogo in SST's Waiting for Godot; and James Shelby, who played Vanya in the 1997 SST production of Uncle Vanya.
The director is Aleksandra Wolska, an assistant professor of theater arts at the University of Minnesota whose directing credits include SST productions of The Chairs, Waiting for Godot and When the Shark Bites.
Performances are scheduled Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. from July 17 through Aug. 11 in Pigott Theater. In addition, a matinee is scheduled for 2 p.m. Aug. 11. Admission is $22, or $15 for students and seniors. Seating is general. Tickets may be purchased at the Stanford Ticket Office in Tresidder Union; by calling the Ticket Office at (650) 725-2787 or the Pigott Theater box office at (650) 725-5838; or on the SST website, www.stanfordtheater.org. A limited number of tickets also will be sold at the door.
For more information, call the Stanford Ticket Office or visit the SST website. A daylong symposium in connection with the play is set for July 27 (see sidebar).
By John Sanford