Setting fire to Azuka Theatre

Playwrights Jacqui Goldfinger and Nicholas Wardigo.

Playwrights Jacqui Goldfinger and Nicholas Wardigo.

Happy Tuesday, everyone.  I spent last night at the Wilma Theater, experiencing a reading of the latest creation from Jacqui Goldfinger called The Arsonists, courtesy of Azuka Theatre.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, Azuka has produced two of Jacqui’s other plays (to wit, the terrible girls and Skin and Bone), and The Arsonists completes a sort of Southern Gothic trilogy (in tone and style, but not plot; there are no characters that cross plays).  Jacqui enjoys playing with ancient Greek myth as well, intriguingly connecting the weaving of an arsonist’s fuse with the spinning, measuring, and cutting of the strings of the Fates (there were also whispers of Antigone, but she was a lot more subtle about that).  I don’t know a lot about the Southern Gothic style, but I have seen this pop up in other examples (the use of The Odyssey in O Brother, Where art Thou? and Dan Dietz’s modernization of The Oresteia in Clementine in the Lower Nine).  I suppose that’s what you get when you name your cities “Athens” and “Memphis.”  Of course, that doesn’t explain why there isn’t Greek stuff coming out of Ithaca, New York, but I digress.

I loved the terrible girls and enjoyed Skin and Bone and Slip/Shot (produced by Flashpoint Theatre a few years ago), but The Arsonists left me cold.  The setup is terrific: there’s a father/daughter arsonist team, whose family business is setting natural-looking fires for people who want to collect insurance money.  Something goes wrong just before the play begins, the father is killed in the blaze he set, and now, the daughter must deal with his ghost, whose presence jeopardizes her with the police (the logic is a little shadowy, but it is a surreal play, so I’m willing to roll with a lot).  Great setup, great stakes, but the solution to the conundrum lies in talking about their unpleasant past and the complicated woman who was their wife and mother (but not a presence on stage), and I feel like it drains the blood out of the thing. Still, very beautifully written with some lovely music, and I look forward to seeing the production next year.

I should temper my opinion with the assurance that I don’t know what I’m talking about.  The Arsonists has been featured at the Kennedy Center and the National New Play Network’s showcase, as well as being nominated for the Weissburger Award and the Blackburn Prize (and, as I mentioned, it’s already part of Azuka Theatre’s next season).  Clearly, Jacqui knows something I don’t, and her play is hitting a chord with many important people; it simply wasn’t my cup of tea.  It was, however, a fun night out, and I made friends with a couple new drinking buddies: James and Jill.

I’ll end this with a reminder that John O’Hara’s play reading is tonight at 8 at Plays and Players.  It’s supposed to be 21 degrees tonight, but if you’re looking for a warm place to drink and listen to theater, Plays and Players is your ticket.

Nick with his new friends, James and Jill.

Nick with his new friends, James and Jill.

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