BWW Review: THE ARSONISTS at Thrown Stone Theatre Company
On Thursday, July 12, I had the pleasure of seeing the New England premiere performance of THE ARSONISTS, a play by Jacqueline Goldfinger, put on by Thrown Stone Theatre Company at the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance, in Ridgefield, CT. Thrown Stone has turned up the heat, setting the atmosphere ablaze with an emotionally intense drama that ignites the mind, and fires up the senses. Following up after last summer's smashing success, Milk, Thrown Stone has succeeded in putting forth yet another first-rate show, directed by Jonathan Winn.
Set in a Florida swamp in the 1990s, the sound, lighting, and constant cricket noises create the atmosphere, almost reminiscent of the Disneyland (in California) Pirates of the Caribbean ride, or at least, as it existed back in the late 1980s. That sense of impending danger and realistic effects enraptures the room for an audience to be mesmerized by what they experience.
The music, performed live by the two cast members, has a sound that can be described as a cross between old hymns, folk, and deep southern country gospel. Picture songs in the styles of "I Saw The Light," "I'll Fly Away," and "May The Circle Be Unbroken," but in minor keys, with slower tempos, and with the feelings of joy replaced by deep depression, yet with moving melodies that captivate the emotions and draw the audience in, excellently delivered, in character, by two cast members whose voices and singing styles fit the songs perfectly.
Emma Factor plays the role of M who first enters the set and starts destroying part of it in a profanity laden psychotic rage that was so strongly delivered that I initially wasn't sure whether I was watching an actress, or whether I needed to take my phone off of silent mode and call 9.1.1. to report a crazy person invading the theatre and wreaking havoc. Everything about Emma Factor's facial expressions, movements, mannerisms, actions, words, drawl, and vocal tone totally sell the character, right from the start. M's lunacy is further conveyed strongly when while singing, she sometimes suddenly smiles or laughs in moments of the song that are not intended to be humorous. The character's insanity is never exaggerated in a farcical manner, but remains truly believable at all times.
Nick Plakias plays the role of H, who is M's deceased father. He shows up while M is singing her first song, scaring M on the grounds that she believes that he is dead. Their dialogue becomes quite intense, even as they sing well together. The stage chemistry is powerful, like a believable father and daughter who were professional arsonists together, hired to help people scam insurance companies in this manner, until something went awry, costing H his life.
Part of the beauty of this show is that the actual situation depicted is left open to the interpretation of the audience. My personal view is that M is so mentally deranged that she is having delusions of seeing her late father, and that H's entire existence during the time of the show is strictly taking place in M's mind. Another possible interpretation is that H is a ghost, or a soul in Purgatory, haunting M, but some of H's words would create theological problems with that interpretation. One could take the perspective that H is a demon, appearing to M as her late father, and trying to lead her astray, spiritually, encouraging her to seek a creation to worship and deify, rather than to worship the Creator.. Yet another perspective could be that H is actually the central character, and that he is in Hell, viewing his daughter's tortured existence as part of his eternal punishment.
M's spirituality seems to be a cross between her late mother's warped and unloving perversion of Christianity, her father's deification of other human beings, and another family member's polytheistic devotion to pagan Greek deities. It is no surprise that M's poor theological upbringing that lacked exclusive devotion to the one true God, has led her to the deep depressing darkness and emptiness that torments her soul to the core.
How does this story end? Let's just say I am glad I paid attention to where the fire exits are in the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance, and love the fact that Thrown Stone has once again incorporated the element of smell into their production. Come to the show for an emotionally intense experience that you will absolutely enjoy, as I did, along with the rest of the audience.
I highly recommend THE ARSONISTS, which is scheduled to continue to run at the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance, through July 29, 2018. For tickets and times, please go to http://thrownstone.org/events. If you are a Broadway casting director who is looking for a top notch young dramatic actress, I challenge you to come to THE ARSONISTS and watch Emma Factor scorch the competition.