Biedermann tells his wife he is inviting the two men to dinner, telling her, “If we report them to the police we will make enemies of them. If we invite them to dinner we will become friends.” Mrs. Biedermann then tells Anna she can’t have the night off because they are having guests. (Just about the time you think that their characters couldn’t possibly act any more nervous, both Beth Hogan and Norbert Weisser crank it up another notch during this second act. At the same time, Ron Bottitta and John Achorn are cool and calm as can be. They are all simply wonderful.)
Biedermann looks on anxiously as Billy prepares the fuel drums, all the while talking about how Joe has gone out for fire lighters, and that he isn’t sure where he left the detonator. Biedermann is not sure what to do with himself, wiping his hands on his trousers and acting more and more intimidated by the situation. Downstairs, Mrs. Knechtling, the widow of Biedermann’s former employee, shows up. She wishes to see him about proceeds due her for her husband’s part in the development of the hair tonic. He ultimately ends up refusing to see her and orders her out of the house - that he will speak to her through his attorney.
Biedermann sits on one of the drums and starts to light a cigarette. Billy calmly goes about his preparations, and cautions him that he really shouldn’t smoke in the attic. Biedermann jumps off the drum in a complete panic.
By the end of their conversation about how they can’t get proper detonators because the military doesn’t have them available to steal yet, Billy even has a reluctant Biedermann holding the fuse cord so he can properly measure the length he needs. As blatant as it all is, Biedermann refuses to admit the men are the arsonists. When the smell of petrol gets to him, Billy opens the sky light so there will be fresh air in the room.
After Biedermann leaves the attic, a Professor of Philosophy comes out of hiding. Billy orders him to stay in the attic and be quiet, and to make sure no one comes in while he and Joe are at dinner downstairs. Billy questions why he is in it with him, saying that he doesn’t trust him since his heart isn’t in it, and he doesn’t enjoy it like they do.
The chorus of firefighters appear and claim that he wears glasses because he is farsighted. Within the drums he doesn’t see petrol -- he sees an idea. The professor goes downstairs and tells Mrs. Biedermann that it is urgent that he speak with Mr. Biedermann. Meanwhile, Mrs. Biedermann announces that they are having goose for dinner. She is not thrilled about the idea of having the men eat dinner with them in an attempt to win their friendship, and admits that her husband may not always be right, but he is too kind for his own good. (She says this even though he is always yelling at her and Anna, yet treating the arsonists with utmost kindness.) As the chorus rearranges the set for dinner, they say, “AndthewindfromtheEastiscomingup...”
Anna is busy preparing the table for dinner. Biedermann tells her he wants things plain and simple, a cozy little meal without any pretense. He tells her he is wearing his oldest jacket, and wants all of the finery removed from the table, including the silver, china, linen napkins, finger bowls, candlesticks, and so on. Just then, Mrs. Biedermann runs into the room in a panic and shows him the wreath they ordered for Mr. Knechtling’s funeral. It was delivered to their home by mistake, and has “Gottleib Biedermann, Rest in Peace” on the ribbon!
Biedermann gives Anna orders to not serve dinner, to just put it on the table, and to not wear her uniform -- to instead wear one of his wife’s dresses. She calls him Liebe (Love), but he tells her not to call him that. When he keep ordering her around,theystartaheatedargument-------- that leads to him grabbing her and kissing her passionately. She grabs his ass, he wraps a leg around her thighs, and grabs her ass.... and they grind their hips against each other.
As they break apart he squeezes her breast and reminds her (with a perfect pause between each word) that he “...doesn’t want things too perfect...” She swats him on the ass as he starts to leave, and then lunges after him and spanks him a couple more times as he leaves the room.
The arsonists enter the room with Joe saying he can’t get any fire lighters since they have all been confiscated by the cops, and that anyone caught with them or selling them will be arrested. In the meantime, Biedermann enters the room saying he has gotten his best wine from the cellar for dinner -- yet can’t believe he’s doing it. He continues on saying he has had his suspicions right from the start, but asks if you were in his place, what would you do?
Dinner underway, everyone but Mrs. Biedermann jokes about the lack of fire lighters and that instead Joe has loaded kindling into the attic. She fails to see the humor in the joke. Biedermann even goes on to joke about measuring the fuse wire together. When she still isn’t amused he tries to reassure her that they just have an offbeat sense of humor and that Billy will probably end up asking her for a light!
Biedermann offers a toast to their friendship. Anna comes in serving bread, wearing one of Mrs. Biedermann’s dresses. Billy starts to compliment the dinner, but says what they really need to make it special is a tablecloth -- a linen tablecloth, and linen napkins, and finger bowls and candlesticks -- everything Biedermann had Anna remove from the table in the first place. Billy says it really isn’t necessary since they didn’t have tablecloths in prison either.
Biedermann screams at Anna to return the salt grinder. She screams back at him that he slipped it into his pocket. Billy tries to smooth things over by saying, “It’s the weather, you know -- wind from the East.” Biedermann pours more wine to break the tension. When Joe realizes he is drinking from the finger bowl, he spits the water back into it. Billy then asks Mr. Biedermann if he knows what it’s like to be traumatized like he was in prison.
When Mrs. Biedermann asks how he ended up in prison, Mr. Biedermann tells her she shouldn’t ask questions like that. Billy explains that he was a head waiter at a very nice restaurant. They came to arrest him at home for being an arsonist. He was so taken aback by it that he went along with it. When he explained to the police that he had to get to work, they said that the restaurant had burned. At this point, the professor shows up asking to see Mr. Biedermann because he can no longer be silent about a matter, but he is kept waiting in the hall. Billy also accuses Biedermann of hiding the candlesticks away, so he asks Anna to bring them over -- but they have no matches to light them. When Billy admonishes Joe about his lack of table manners, he also mentions that Joe was in the theater briefly -- before it burned down. Joe agrees to do a skit for them, ending up donning the tablecloth and playing the ghost of Mr. Knechtling, and scaring them all to death -- making the Biedermann’s more nervous than they already are.
Mrs. Biedermann is severely traumatized as Joe describes the corpse of Mr. Knechtling. By this time Mr. Biedermann is quietly sobbing and shaking, telling them to all just sit down.
Billy scolds a contrite Joe about scaring everyone. In an attempt to revive the party, Biedermann offers them all a cigarette. Joe is sorry that he frightened everyone so offers to sing them a song. Pretty soon everyone is enjoying a rousing chorus of “London’s Burning” and Biedermann is going to put out the flame.... Just then sirens are heard off in the distance and Mrs. Biedermann starts to scream hysterically that it is the arsonists. As the sirens go by, Billy says that’s how they do it. They set false alarms on the outskirts of town, then the fire fighters find their way blocked when they try to get back into town to the real fire. Mrs. Biedermann tells them to stop joking -- that there is a limit. They tell her they are not joking -- they are the arsonists.
As they grab the fuses, they tell Biedermann that his home is in a perfect position and that his house will be one of five fires that night -- all of them situated around a petrol station. Biedermann still doesn’t believe it. When they ask him who he thinks they are, he says simply, “You are my friends.” Billy then tells him to give them matches as a sign he believes they aren’t arsonists -- as a sign of trust. Mrs. Biedermann offers coffee, and Mr. Biedermann says to all use first names and to drink a toast to their friendship, offering them anything they want as nothing is too much trouble for a friend. The arsonists again demand matches before they go. Just then, Anna can be heard screaming, “Hilfe! Hilfe! Hilfe!” (Help), and runs into the room in a panic saying the entire sky is aflame. Biedermann says, “At least it’s not our house...”
A dejected and utterly down-trodden Biedermann has handed over his matches to the arsonists who are laughing as they leave. Mrs. Biedermann comes in screaming at him -- she can’t believe he gave them matches. Still in denial, Biedermann says, “If they have no matches of their own, they can’t possibly be arsonists.” As they go out to set their fires, the professor comes in and confesses, saying he can no longer be silent about them.
As explosions rock the city and it starts to burn, the fire fighters come to put out the flames while Mr. Biedermann is cringing at the explosions and the red light illuminating his home. The chorus of fire fighters proclaim that there are many senseless things, but nothing more senseless than the story just told..... ....... or failing to change anything...
A soot covered Biedermann cowers in his chair, smokes his cigarette and tries to read his newspaper.
The English translation of this play was done by British author Alistair Beaton.