There have been fiery performances before, but none as scorching hot as the ones in Jacqueline Goldfinger’s “The Arsonists” delivered by Emma Factor as “M” and Nick Plakias as “H.” This father-daughter business as arsonists-for-hire is normally as easy as lighting a match to gasoline. However, a problem arises when H gets caught in one of the raging fires. M brings what she can find of him home in a burlap bag. Then, she fiercely axes a hole in the floor and throws the bag into that hole. From the violent way he has been pitched into the hole we can assume that he is dead.
Therefore, it is shocking when he rises out of the bag begging for his “missing part” to be found so that he can be buried whole. Considering the shock M has had in getting what was left of her father out of the burning building, it’s not surprising that she imagines her father has hauntingly returned.
Inspired by the Greek tragedy Electra, which finds Electra mourning for her father’s death and mindful of the suffering she experienced at her mother’s commands, likewise, this striking play becomes a new and novel American play. Instead of a Greek chorus trying to soothe M as it did for Electra, she picks up her guitar and sings. This helps express her sorrow especially when her father accompanies her with his banjo.
The music in this dramatic and touching play moves the action forward. It is a musical mix of gospel and folk beautifully and passionately performed by both M and H. As the father keeps asking his daughter to retrieve the missing insides of his body, M gets more and more inconsolable. What is revealed in the father/daughter talks and the lyrics of the songs they sing is their difficult but loving relationship.
Everything about this production is blood red hot. Director Jonathan Winn rips apart every line and nuance as highly combustible elements, while Jason Peck’s sound design crackles and snaps, the sounds often rising in intensity capturing the all-consuming noise of a fiery hell. Fufan Zhang’s set design immediately transports the audience to a Florida swamp dwelling surrounded by tall weeds and looking as if it has been pieced together by sheets of corrugated tin. Cyrus Newitt’s lighting design leaves no doubt that fire is the main focus on this steaming hotbed of a production.
Music director Daniela Sikora brings out the best of the two actors’ singing and playing. M sings with her broken heart, but we hear every word and feel her pain. H plays so many different instruments well that we long to hear him play more. His performance is as breathtaking as M’s.
Overall, this edgy and thoroughly professional production defies anyone not to be moved by it. Since it is playing in repertory performances, it is important to check the dates. Box office: thrownstone.org/events.
Joanne Greco Rochman is a founding member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and is an active member in the American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]