Starring Michael Ball, Fiona Reid. Written by Max Frisch. Directed by Morris Panych. St. Lawrence Centre, to Dec. 9.
Swiss writer Max Frisch’s postwar satire, The Arsonists, is a one-joke play, but the joke is a wicked one and enduringly relevant. Biedermann (Michael Ball), a bourgeois businessman, lets a pair of sketchy characters occupy his attic, foolishly refusing to acknowledge all the obvious signs that they’re the arsonists currently setting fires around town. It’s an indictment of cowardice and complacency in the face of evil. Morris Panych—who, as a playwright, has written his share of one-joke black comedies—proves the perfect director for it. In his clever CanStage production, he gives the 59-year-old play a contemporary edge by turning its Greek chorus of firefighters into a sizzling rock band, led by singer-songwriter Justin Rutledge as a doleful fire chief/lead guitarist. The veteran Ball, superbly crusty as ever, heads up a stellar cast. Panych’s perennial design partner, Ken MacDonald, contributes another of his wonderfully surreal sets, lit with blazing beauty by Jason Hand.