The intimacy of a small theater tends to create the feeling of being one of the characters in a play, even if just a silent, observant one. That was the feeling I had as I watched the Mercury Players production of Caleb Stone’s play, The Arsonists this weekend.
That feeling was even more pronounced because the focus of Stone’s story—the reaction of two small town couples to the horrendous murders and mutilations discovered to have been committed by one of their neighbors—is based on a true life incident that took place in Plainfield, Wisconsin in the 1950s.
Stone’s characters grapple with a roller coaster of emotions as they learn the grisly details of the murders of women they knew, perpetrated by a community member familiar to them. The intrusion of the news media into the calm of their small town lives unnerves them even more. Of course, the news coverage of the 1950s was nothing like the constant and horrific barrage of crime coverage that is endemic to the twenty-four hour news cycle today, but serves as a thematic portent of what is to come.
The Mercury Players Theatre, which stages their productions at the Bartell Theater in Madison, Wisconsin, says on their website that they are “dedicated to creating exceptional productions of original, new and unusual plays.” They have made it their mission to “challenge participants and audiences to see themselves and their world with a fresh perspective.” I think they succeeded with The Arsonists.
The Mercury Players production of The Arsonists was directed by Sadie Yi, and featured Coleman, Edric Johnson, Stephanie Robey, and Elizabeth Chen as the auto mechanics and their wives who were caught on the sidelines of an event that still managed to change their lives forever. Caleb Stone is a Wisconsin-grown playwright, who most often works with the Shake Rag Alley Theatre in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, where The Arsonists premiered.
Stone’s script--coupled with impassioned acting, a set right out of the homes of my childhood, and the intimate setting--is definitely unsettling, but is also filled with nuance and insight into human nature. Kudos to Caleb Stone and all the folks at the Mercury Theatre for having the courage to tackle a tough and grisly subject and pulling it off so well!
Here's a sample:
Here's a sample:
The Arsonists TRAILER from Rob Matsushita on Vimeo.