They say not to shout ‘fire’ in a theatre, but the Denizen Theatre made an exception.
This past Sunday, there was not one empty seat in the Denizen’s intimate black box theatre. Not too shabby for the conclusion of both the regional premiere of “The Arsonists” and the theatre’s first season.
Immediately, the audience was transported into the swamplands of Florida, walking through a narrow tunnel of faux moss, mist and cricket chirps to reach their seats.
Mist lingered over the stage’s plain and modest set—a shack made up of wooden planks, two crude wooden chairs and two propped up guitars.
“The Arsonists,” written by Jacqueline Goldfinger, revolves around a father-daughter arsonist team.
“This powerfully poetic story of love, loss, forgiveness and letting go will take you on a mythical journey into the very essence of human connection,” cites the Denizen Theatre’s website. “Loosely based on ‘Electra,’ The Arsonists weaves poetry and music into a southern gothic tale of what it means to lose a parent.”
Directed by Denizen’s own Ben Williamson, “The Arsonists” comprised of a two-person cast: “H” played by Sean Cullen and “M” played by Jenny Jarnagin.
“The foundation of this father and daughter dynamic was one we all were very excited to explore,” Williamson said. “Both Jenny and Sean are present, professional and willing to try different actions to get what they want in a scene. They had never met before the first day of rehearsal and we established this relationship that was at its core, rooted in love.”
One could feel the audience hold their breath during the duration of the first scene, which had no dialogue except for some grunts of “motherf*cker.” With M laboriously dragging a stuffed, blood-stained lumpy sack onto the stage and tearing away wooden floor boards, the audience collectively leaned forward in anxious curiosity.
The heavily poetic, Greek mythology nuances within the characters’ dialogue are interjected with Panhandle-authentic anecdotes and sass. If you like a play riddled with metaphors, poetic symbols and bluesy father-daughter duets—while also playing with the concept of life and death—then this play is for you.
M is persistently the main focus, as the audience witnesses her come to terms with the elements of life out of her control, and to learn how to forgive those dearest to her heart.
“You need to go find your breath. Feed your fire,” H said to M, encouraging his daughter to accept his death, move on and find something worth living for.
“She equates vulnerability with weakness and I know that’s something I always did growing up,” Jarnagin said. “It’s been such a gift to kind of work through that with her until she is able to be okay with her own humanity.”
A tear-jerking scene of M looking endearingly into her father’s eyes, kissing him goodbye on the cheek before he descends below the floor boards, is quickly followed by a visually captivating scene of M leaving the shack in flames—fiery orange lights seeping through the cracks of the wood and the sounds of crackling fire growing louder and louder until nothing.
“I feel like I’ve grown so much more as a person and learned so much about forgiveness and letting go,” Jarnagin said.
The night before, on Saturday evening, Feb. 23, Denizen-supporting community members gathered in anticipation to hear the announcement of the theatre’s 2019 season.
Williamson, Denizen Founder Harry Lipstein and Co- Director Brittany Proia stood before the audience with bright eyes and spoke passionately about the upcoming plays for this year.
“They all speak to our mission and have sincere topical issues,” Williamson said. “They represent themes that are present in our community, and hold a mirror up to those who inhabit the world.”
From April 5 to April 28, “Every Brilliant Thing,” directed by Eva Tenuto, will be venturing into how a person copes with their mother’s mental health through a heartfelt and hopeful lens.
From June 7 to June 30, “Companion Piece,” directed by Kevin Armento, explores how we as individuals may replace human connections with other things in this cyber world.
From July 17 to July 28, “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” is taking the stage, and that’s all I can say about that. With no director, no set and no knowledge of the script beforehand, a different actor takes the stage each performance to maintain the play’s mysterious wit.
From Aug. 9 to Sep. 1, “Meek” will have its U.S. Premiere. Think “A Handmaid’s Tale” meets “Black Mirror.”
To finish the 2019 season, from Oct. 4 to Oct. 27, “Sender” is a raw play that forces the characters to confront their millennial-hood and question the meaning behind adulthood.
“I look for plays that really ask a question, and explore the human condition in an exciting, inspiring, challenging way,” Williamson said. “We are so excited to share these exciting new plays with the community at a professional level.”