Theatre @ York Ignites the Stage with The Fire Raisers


TORONTO, October 20, 2008 -- Theatre @ York launches its 2008-2009 season with The Fire Raisers, Swiss playwright Max Frisch’s biting black comedy about humanity’s complicity in its own calamities. Directed by Heather Davies, in a translation by Michael Bullock, this rare Toronto production of The Fire Raisers opens November 4 and runs to November 8 in the Joseph G. Green Studio Theatre at York University.


Written as a radio play in 1953 and first produced on stage in Zurich five years later, Frisch’s play is a parable about fatal complacency in the face of a social menace. With great wit, humour and heart, the play offers the spectacle of a self-satisfied, prosperous bourgeois who allows himself to become the culpable dupe of the agents of mayhem.


Displaying a mixture of anxious timidity and fatuous shortsightedness, the protagonist, Biedermann, willfully shuts his eyes to the activities of the arsonists who are literally installed under his roof. His strategy of appeasement plays right into the hands of the demonic plotters who scarcely bother to conceal their sinister intentions.


“Frisch believed that we all have moments when we are Biedermann – when we don’t stand up against evil that is right in front of us,” said Davies. “We may do this out of habit and self-protection, but often we’re not even aware that we’re doing it. We also want to believe that we’re still good people; we somehow manage to justify our choices.”


“Frisch was deeply uncomfortable with this aspect of humanity,” Davies said. “He’d witnessed his own country, Switzerland, turn away Jewish refugees during the Second World War because of concerns over Swiss food stocks. But he believed that denial and justification are universal human traits.”


Born in 1911 in Zurich (where he died 80 years later), Max Frisch worked as a journalist before turning to full-time writing in the years following World War II. He became one of Europe’s major literary voices, widely honoured as a novelist, social commentator and diarist as well as playwright. Seminal novels include I’m not Stiller (1954) and Homo Faber (1957). Among his other stage works are Andorra (1961), When the War Was Over (1949) and The Chinese Wall (1946).


Heather Davies is currently completing her Masters in directing in the Department of Theatre at York University. She has worked extensively in England, including two-and-a-half years with the Royal Shakespeare Company. At the RSC she directed a number of her own projects (Lope de Vega’s Montagues and Capulets, co-produced with Warwick University’s CAPITAL Centre; Stratford Talking on the RSC Main Stage; and Desire Under the Elms at RSC’s The Other Place) and worked as associate director on projects including The Jacobethan Season (The Malcontent, The Roman Actor, The Island Princess, Edward III and Eastward Ho!), for which the RSC won an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement.


Davies’ other directing credits include Osmond the Great Turk, Edward the Fourth Part II, The Faithful Shepherdess (Globe Theatre Education - Read not Dead); The Taming of the Shrew (Creation Theatre, Oxford), Copenhagen (The Watermill Theatre, Newbury), Blithe Spirit (English Theatre, Frankfurt) and Medea (Performing Arts Centre, Richmond, Virginia). Among her acting credits are numerous productions in London’s West End, including Napoleon (Shaftsbury Theatre) and Aspects of Love (both on the national tour and in the West End). At York, her directing projects have included Titus Andronicus, The Book of Days and Beowulf.


Working with Davies on The Fire Raisers is a cast of 11 fourth-year acting students and a creative team of undergraduates handling all aspects of the production design and execution. The set features an 18-foot-house which undergoes a remarkable transformation in the last act, and (fittingly for a play about arson) the staging includes numerous occasions of fire.



Theatre @ York, the production company of York University's Theatre Department, has been entertaining audiences for almost 40 years. Each year, the company mounts a challenging season of plays drawn from the contemporary and classical repertoire, featuring some of Canada's most promising stage talent.


York’s theatre program has long been a springboard for some of Canada’s finest theatre artists. Alumni include screen and stage actors Rachel McAdams, Tamara Bernier, Thom Marriott, Patrick Galligan, Tara Rosling and Jennifer Gould; directors Weyni Mengesha, Richard Rose, Jim Millan and Soheil Parsa; playwrights Djanet Sears, Diane Flacks and Sally Clark; and stage designers Charlotte Dean, Renée Brode and Deeter Schurig.




What:   Theatre @ York presents The Fire Raisers directed by Heather Davies

When:  Previews November 2 & 3 at 7:30pm

Opens November 4 and runs to November 8 at 7:30pm nightly; plus matinees November 5 & 7 at 1pm.

Where: Joseph G. Green Studio Theatre, Centre for Film and Theatre, York University, 4700 Keele St. [map]

Admission: $15 / students & seniors $10. Previews: November 2 PWYC / November 3 $5

Box Office: 416.736.5888 |


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Media contact:
Amy Stewart, Communications, Faculty of Fine Arts, York U
416.650.8469   |