Mr Biderman & Arsonists
by Max Frisch
Theater Atelje 212
Director: Jovana Tomic
Dramatist: Dimitrije Kokanov
Composer: Misha Cvijovic
Cast: Fedja Stojanovic, Radmila Tomovic, Katarina Zutic, Vladislav Mihajlovic, Sofija Jurican, Ivan Jeftovic, Dragana Djukic
This dark comedy is set in a town that is regularly attacked by arsonists. Disguised as door-to-door salesmen (hawkers), they talk their way into people’s homes and settle down in the attic, where they set about planning the destruction of the house.
The first sketch was written in 1948 in response to the Communist takeover in Prague, but the play is often seen as a metaphor for Nazism and fascism, and Frisch encourages this through several allusions. The play shows how “normal” citizens can be taken in by evil. As a parable, in a more general sense it may be considered to be descriptive of the gullible and easily manipulated aspects of the German Biedermann – the Everyman – who yearns both for a sense of shallow propriety as well as for a deeper sense of belonging, even if it comes at a great price, including that which is sensible or even necessary for his own survival. In that sense, the play shares much with absurdist plays written at about the same time, such as Eugene Ionesco’s ‘Rhinoceros’.
The central character, a businessman called Biedermann, is seen at the outset reading newspaper reports of arson, convinced that he could never be taken in. Within minutes, the first “hawker” has appeared (Schmitz), and through a combination of intimidation and persuasion he talks his way into spending the night in the attic.
As the play unfolds, a second arsonist appears (Eisenring), and before Biedermann can do anything to stop it, his attic is piled high with oil drums full of petrol. He even helps them to measure the detonating fuse and gives them matches, refusing to believe the full horror of what is happening. He soon becomes an accomplice in his own downfall.