Fanning the Flames of Know Theatre’s “The Arsonists”

Review by Alan Jozwiak of The Arsonists: Know Theatre

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Tigers, like in the lines from the William Blake poem, look like they are burning from a distance.  They are also part of the imagery within Know Theatre’s latest production, The Arsonists, by Jacqueline Goldfinger.  This play is part of the National New Play Network’s Rolling World Premiere, a program which encourages multiple productions of new works by various theatres situated across the United States.

            In the play, the tiger becomes a symbol for “the best controlled burn,” something that the titular father-daughter arsonist team desperately wants to have.  We meet the father, identified by the single letter H (Jim Stark), and the daughter, identified by the single letter M (Erin Ward), after an arson job goes wrong—with bad consequences for H. The play is conceived as a quest piece for M to finally let go of her father through some mythic overtones which harkens back to Egyptian mythology and the story of Osiris, who needed to find a missing body part in order to make his way into the afterlife.

Within this mythological framework is a microcosm of M’s relationship with her father.  We see both the warts and the wonder, from their arguments to their harmonizing on gospel and country songs.  Much of the credit for making The Arsonists work should go to director Tamara Winters.  Winters is able to work all these elements together into a compelling evening of theater.

Erin Ward as M does a great job with her role.  It was also delightful to witness Erin Ward’s ability to be totally authentic and in the moment throughout this play.  Ward does an outstanding job walking in this emotional terrain.  She turns from being carefree and joking with her father, to being petulant towards him, to despairing about surviving the loss of her father.  Ward is a particularly strong singer, which makes these gospel and country songs delightful.

Cincinnati theater newcomer Jim Stark does an equally beautiful job as H, the spectral father wanting to bond with his daughter, while also trying to let her go.  This is a play of routines of the familiar and Stark does a great job showcasing the care of his daughter while both of them are preparing wicks for future arson jobs.  These little actions reveal the care that Stark’s character has in connecting with his daughter as he is discussing everyday things with her.  They are some of the more beautiful moments of the play.

Scenic Designer and Producing Artistic Director Andrew J. Hungerford created a sparse, but effective in the form of a raised cabin. By having the cabin floor sit a foot or so above the stage, it allows for some surprises to come out of the floor boards.  The wood was also unvarnished, echoing the fact that raw wood can be more easily lit.  It short, it was a nicely done set that contributed to the overall impact of the play.

While H and M might still try to chase down that tiger to get that best controlled burn, you do not need to do so.  The Arsonists runs this weekend and next weekend, ending on October 14th.  This is another fine production that Know which should satisfy its audience members.

For ticket information, contact Know Theatre through their website: http://www.knowtheatre.com.

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