Frisch, Max

Frisch, Max
   Playwright. Frisch began his writing career as a journalist in his native Zurich, but he did not begin writing plays until he had established himself as a licensed architect in the 1940s. He continued to practice architecture while on a yearlong Rockefeller grant in the United States in 1951, but finally felt confident enough about his playwriting in 1955 to give up his architecture practice. His early plays included Nun singen sie wieder (Now They Sing Again, 1946), Die chinesische Mauer (The Wall of China, 1947), Santa Cruz (1947), Als der Krieg zu Ende war (When the War Was Over, 1949), Graf Öderland (Count Oederland, 1951), and Don Juan, oder die Liebe zu Geometrie (Don Juan, or the Love of Geometry, 1953). These plays established Frisch in many German-speaking theaters, though few produced them elsewhere.
   Frisch's best plays, however, were yet to come — and they were the ones that established his international reputation. They were Biedermann und die Brandstifter (The Firebugs, 1958) and Andorra (1961). The former acknowledged its debt to Bertolt Brecht (whom Frisch had met in 1949) in its subtitle, ein Lehrstück ohne Lehre (A Didactic Play without Didacticism); it was based on a radio play Frisch had written in 1955. Biedermann und die Brandstifter was in many ways an allegorical condemnation of Germany, represented by the title character, whose name implies "Mr. Comfortable." Biedermann permits two arsonists to move into his house, even though he knows of several recent arson cases in his city. In his complacency, he even allows the arsonists to store gasoline in his attic, and when his house goes up in flames, he and his wife perish. In an epilogue Frisch wrote especially for performances in Germany, he portrayed Herr and Frau Biedermann in Hell, complacent as ever, unrepentant, refusing to take responsibility for the destruction in their midst they had somehow rationalized to themselves.
   Andorra takes place in a courtroom, and it too indicts complacency and the lack of civil courage, this time among citizens of a mythical "Andorra." A series of individuals enter a witness stand to deny any responsibility for the death of a man mistaken as a Jew who falls victim to a dictatorship of "the Blacks." It turns out that the man was not a Jew, but in their testimonies his fellow citizens acknowledge that none of them had come to his aid.
   Both Biedermann and Andorra premiered at the Zurich Schauspielhaus and stirred substantial controversy, initially in Switzerland where Frisch had become increasingly vocal about Switzerland's complicity with Germany in World War II. Andorra was a flop on Broadway in 1963 (in a translation by George Tabori), running for only two weeks. The Firebugs, however, enjoyed a more successful international reputation, and it continues to appear in the repertoires of many theaters around the world.

Historical dictionary of German Theatre. . 2006.

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