At the halfway-point of Wildfire, I was poised to write a different review.
“The parts don’t connect!,” I’d have written, incensed and confused. “The tone is muddled, the quirks in dialogue are unfounded and childish, the characters are flat and undeveloped!”
But this pearl of a play kept slipping forward, complicating, twisting, unraveling. I was wrong, gloriously so.
Leanna Brodie’s translation of David Paquet’s 2016 Québécois play is sharp and fluid, the language serving as a tool for actors rather than a hurdle to overcome. Soheil Parsa’s direction is confident and sparse. The acting — oh, the acting! — is precise, funny, and endlessly effective.
What is Wildfire actually about, though? There’s no easy answer. Wildfire’s content and its structure are tangled such that explaining either in too much detail will spoil the other. Paquet’s three vignettes are puzzle pieces which interlock gracefully in Wildfire’s eleventh hour: seeing them click in real time is quite the experience.
A family seems caught in a loop of its own traumas, wrestling with destiny and curse. When the play opens, three triplets, Claudia, Claudette, and Claudine, reckon with the memory of an unloving mother. Claudine battles a love for cookies so large it might destroy her (or is it him, or them? The character’s played flawlessly by Paul Dunn). Babies are born, then lost.
And then that abstract, placeless sisterhood burns to a crisp — literally.
From the ashes emerges a completely unrelated love story — a heartbreaking one. Claudia is now Carol (Zorana Sadiq has taken great care in differentiating the two characters, and has managed to make both likeable in the midst of innumerable quirks), and Claudine is now Callum. Callum’s and Carol’s love is transgressive and sexual — but it’s sweet, too.
Then that story, too, fades away.
And then there was one. We conclude with Caroline, played by the brilliant and nimble Soo Garay (who portrayed Claudette in the first vignette). Caroline has a type — serial killers — and she feels a primal need to act on her sexual impulses. She does, which results in a baby — three, actually — and the play fades to a close.
Parsa‘s spare approach foregrounds the play, not spectacle or stagecraft. Lighting and set by Kaitlin Hickey and sound by Thomas Ryder Payne are, as such, simple and effective, and never distracting. Parsa has funneled his efforts into the strange little idiosyncrasies of Paquet’s text — the cookies and chocolate dragons of a world otherwise drenched in sadness — and it’s fabulous. The three actors, too, are perfectly calibrated, and each walks the thin line between naturalism and over-the-top silliness, making daring acting choices which push boundaries without pulling focus.
See the play and stick it out — don’t let any first-half confusion get the better of you. Wildfire is a sucker-punch, and its dramaturgy is robust in the extreme: I don’t know if we’ll get anything like it in Toronto again any time soon.
Wildfire runs at Factory Theatre through June 19. Tickets are available here.