Alpena Civic Theatre presents absurdist comedy from seasons past

Alpena Civic Theatre returns to its roots with the opening next week of the absurdist comedy, “The Firebugs.”

The show was first directed in 1972 by the late Bill Maxwell, a local theatre stalwart who made it his mission in 1964, along with the late Don Heady, to locate a building in Alpena suitable for staging community theatre productions.

Mission accomplished. For 50 straight years, that same building at 401 River has been the happy site of dozens of ACT comedies, musicals and dramas. Not only that, but Maxwell directed the first show in the newly acquired building and then went on to direct and star in countless other productions over the next five decades.

Now “The Firebugs” is being resurrected. It’s an instance of one long-time ACT veteran and friend paying tribute to another.

“Bill got me into the theatre and absurdist comedy,” said Pat Jacques, who chose to direct and dedicate “The Firebugs” in Maxwell’s honor. Born in 1932, Maxwell passed away in 2011.

“He always loved absurdist theatre,” Jacques said. “He tried to give a little variety to our season and to bring a little art, so I thought it would be a nice tribute because he was one of the major founders of Alpena Civic Theatre.”

Jacques believes the show, set to open March 13, epitomized Maxwell’s philosophy. Written by playwright Max Frisch, the material from the script is considered dense and comes with 56 sound cues and over 100 light cues.

A droll satire of modern society, the action takes place in the living room and attic of a German businessman who discovers two uninvited arsonists who have burned down much of the town. Concerned only with saving themselves and their home, the businessman and his wife lodge and feed the arsonists. Depending upon point of view, the show can be regarded as a hilarious slapstick farce or a satirical attack against complacency.

“We have assembled a great cast,” said Jacques, who played one of the two arsonists when Maxwell originally did the show for ACT. “We got Matt Southwell out of retirement. We lured in Terry Carlson, a star veteran. Both Joe Rybarczyk and Hannah Matzke are very exciting young actors.”

He also said “The Firebugs” is a great ensemble piece with strong characters all the way around, even in the smaller roles.

Derek Spack plays the German businessman, Gottlieb Biedermann, and Carlson plays his wife, Babette. Appearing as the arsonists are Southwell and Rybarczyk. Matzke plays the maidservant, Anna; Rick Mesler is a policeman/Ph.D.; and Donna Gilmet is Mrs. Knechtkling.

A chorus of firemen, who speak in unison and translate for the audience what it is happening on stage, is made up of chorus leader Doug Niergarth, Randy Bouchard, Duane Beyer and Bruce Michaud.

Assisting Jacques on the production team are Evelyn Hunter as producer, Judy Beyer as stage manager, Jay Kettler as lighting designer, Gary Goren as sound effects designer and Scott Edgar as lighting technician. Serving as set designers were Jacques and Gene Reimann.

“The Firebugs” runs March 13-16 and March 20-23 with show times at 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For reservations, call the ACT box office at 354-3624.