Review: Ridgefield Theatre offers ‘Arsonists’ premiere

Nick Plakias and Emma Factor in "The Arsonists."

There’s yet another new theatre in the picturesque town of Ridgefield, Conn. Just a few weeks ago A Contemporary Theatre of Ridgefield (ACT) unveiled their production of “Mamma Mia!” and now the Thrown Stone Theatre Company has opened its second season with the New England premiere of “The Arsonists” by Jacqueline Goldfinger. The cozy black box theatre, located in the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance, is dedicated to emphasizing new work and unconventional approaches to repertoire. “The Arsonists” is playing in rep with the East Coast premiere of Karina Cochran’s “Where All Good Rabbits Go.” For those who are seeking the bold and the unusual, Ridgefield now has a theatre for you.

“The Arsonists” has an electric opening scene as a young woman, apparently fleeing the police, drags a heavy sack containing the body of her father into a ramshackle cabin somewhere in the Florida everglades. As she disposes of the body under the cabin’s floorboards, we hear police sirens approach and then fade away. It isn’t long before Dad (Nick Plakias) rises from the dead to request that his daughter (Emma Factor), return to the scene of their recent crime of arson to find the “rest of him”. The man needs to sleep in peace. But before that happens his daughter, identified only as “M” in the play, has other issues she wants addressed that include a troubled relationship with her long-dead mother.

According to notes, “The Arsonists” is inspired by Sophocles’ “Electra,” but there’s no need to have a working knowledge of that Greek tragedy to appreciate Goldfinger’s moving tale of grief, loss and redemption. This Gothic allegory may be tough sledding for the viewer, but under director Jonathan Winn’s precise direction and the two committed performances of his actors, “The Arsonists” is never less than compelling to watch. The father/daughter relationship is a curious one and their partnership in crime is never clearly explained. You are also witnessing events that seem to be viewed through the eyes of a woman who may or may not be very reliable.

All this can make for some head-scratching moments, but the 70-minute drama (played without intermission) moves along briskly with a pair of actors perfectly in tune with the play and each other. Factor, a non-Equity performer, falls into “Mama’s Family” caricature at times with her southern accent but she also possesses a feral quality that seems absolutely natural and essential in playing a young woman who had to grow up fast and live by her wits. Plakias plays her father with subtlety, imbuing the character with gravity and no small amount of mystery.

Fufan Zhang’s scenic design is grimly atmospheric, getting all the details right and every corner is expressively lit by Cyrus Newitt. Rien Schlect’s costuming is lived-in and appropriate while Jason Peck’s haunting and crucial sound design keeps the entire production on edge. In all, this is a difficult work that certainly won’t be for every taste. But that’s an even better reason for Thrown Stone to continue their mission of unconventionality. We can always see “Mamma Mia!”. A play like “The Arsonists” is a rare find.

“The Arsonists” will play in repertory with “Where All Good Rabbits Go” which runs through August 4. For further information or tickets reservations call the theatre box office at 203.442.1714 or visit: www.thrownstsone.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.