by Beki Pineda

THE ARSONISTS – Written by Jacqueline Goldfinger; Directed by Stephen Weitz. Produced by Benchmark Theatre (1560 Teller, Lakewood) through July 21. Tickets available at benchmarktheatre.com.

On the Benchmark website where the major players within the group are introduced and given a platform to express why they do theatre, there is a great deal of emphasis on telling stories. That is, after all, one of the most primary reasons a person will attend a theatrical performance . . . . to be told a compelling story. Their current production – THE ARSONISTS – certainly has a story to tell.

Father and daughter live together on the outskirts of a Florida swamp in a shack held together by baling wire and hope, sing folk-like songs together, create the tools of their trade (wicks and detonator cords) and reminisce about past times. One night, however, everything goes terribly wrong. The singing and working goes on but everything is changed; eventually the daughter must find a way to go on alone.

Michael Morgan and Rebekah Goldberg as the family unit are devastating in their roles. Michael creates a rough-hewn but loving parent. His agony as the wounded father made everyone in the audience want to comfort him. Rebekah is a new actor to Denver, having recently moved into the theatre community from Florida. Her tough, self-sufficient but devastated daughter provides not only a riveting evening, but a promise of things to come. These actors did the very best job possible with the script they were given.

How many times have you heard someone say they wished they could have one more hour, one more day with a loved one who had passed from sight? If you had that hour, how would you fill it?  Mundane, ordinary tasks? Reminiscing about the past? Preparing the one left behind for the future? Has the daughter in this case found a way to have that one more hour or has she conjured the whole episode in her mind? Is there one last thing she needs to do for her father or does she wish there was one last thing she could do for him? Is her final angry act her poetic way of saying “goodbye” to her father or to her lifestyle? These are questions the playwright lets you work out for yourself.

This is not an easy play to watch. Several people left the theatre mid-show the evening I attended. Benchmark seems to find the plays that have that effect on audience members who like to have their theatre sweet and harmless. You’re not going to get that from this gritty, bold group of story-tellers, an appropriate company to inherit the space and the legacy of the Edge Theatre, now relocating to Chicago.

Leave the children at home and gear up for a wild ride when you visit THE ARSONISTS.

A WOW factor of 8.5!!