Critical Context

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

The Firebugs was adapted for the stage from a 1953 radio play after Max Frisch had turned away from drama for several years in order to devote himself to writing novels. When he considered the project, Frisch was determined to devote himself as never before to practical, theatrical questions rather than exclusively to matters of content and theme. For the play’s premiere in Zurich, Frisch executed the stage design, helped with the costumes, attended all rehearsals, and discussed various problems with the director and the actors. In short, he modeled his approach to the theater on that of Bertolt Brecht, whom he had come to know and admire in Zurich in the late 1940’s. As a result, he succeeded with The Firebugs in producing the most theatrically satisfying of all of his dramatic works and by far the most successful in terms of frequency of production.

Frisch’s earlier dramatic works tended to suffer from a tendency to overemphasize the intellectual content or “message” of the play. Such plays tended to contain long, moralizing monologues and to create the impression of an illustrated lecture rather than providing material for the eye as well as for the mind. With The Firebugs, however, Frisch has produced a work which playfully (and even humorously) investigates an important theme while taking full advantage of the theatrical possibilities of the stage. He has created a model of human behavior which is valid for any number of potential situations, as evidenced by the large number of possible interpretations. Whether, as some critics predict, Max Frisch’s achievements as a novelist outlive his work as a dramatist, it is likely that The Firebugs will remain his most enduring play.