Talisman Theatre’s production of Wildfire (directed Jon Lachlan Stewart) covers three generations of a cursed family struggling with madness, melancholy, and unusual fetishes. The play (written by David Paquet, translated Leanna Brodie) wraps familiar inter-generational themes from Greek tragedy in comic surrealism, so it feels fresh, sharp, and intellectual.
The play breaks into three parts, each following a different generation of the same bloodline. In the first, we meet triplets living on separate floors in a triplex. All find happiness elusive, which is perhaps to be expected since their mother repeatedly announced she wished she’d used “a fucking IUD”. Claudie (Julie Tamiko Manning) hasn’t left her apartment in months, Claudine (Kathleen Stavert) pushes awful tasting cookies on everyone and lies to her therapist to make her life sound better, while Claudette (David Chiazzese) agonizes over her baby’s bizarre behaviour to the point she puts him in a cage. The baby, presumably psychotic, has uttered his first words as a kind of omen, “Maman, I want to push you in the fire”. We also learn of another child that has been sent by registered mail to the wealthiest family in the town. While this first generation of the family seems quite surreal (although also very funny), their circumstances and hang-ups begin to make sense once the third part of the play is revealed.
The second part of the play is a sweet romance between two nerdy misfits (Clément by David Chiazzese and Carole by Julie Tamiko Manning) who meet by chance and share a fondness for fantasy card games and sharing popcorn and soda at the cinema. While four weeks go by in bliss, their romance is soon threatened by their social flaws. It’s a nail biter to see if they will be reunited or part forever.
In the final part of the show, Caroline (Kathleen Stavert) discovers that she has a fetish for serial killers. She tries to control her passion by purchasing figurines like penguins holding flippers and crickets with kites. But, when a new serial killer makes headlines, she is consumed by a burning desire to find the monster.
The performances by the actors is, as one might expect from these local favourites, outstanding. Their skill comes through as each actor takes on a second role that is wholly distinct from their initial performance as the ill-fated triplets with a penchant for misery. In Greek tragedy, only three actors were used for all roles, so this seems a subtle nod to that tradition. But one thing is clear – having such a rich text gives these three plenty to work with. I had the good fortune to sit where I could see the French subtitles and appreciated how faithful and evocative the translation is. Smart, profound, and funny dialogue is a constant. One thing I appreciate is how burning manifests — first as flames, and later as desire. The chemistry between Clément and Carole is sizzling, and Caroline’s is explosive.
The costumes are subtle neutrals that enhance the connection between the characters and also pinpoint their social isolation and quirkiness. The set is minimalist, but uses a backdrop of gold streamers and lighting to suggest that everyone is living in a metaphoric fire. The effect of the stage lights cause the streamers to sparkle as they twist and undulate softly.
Wildfire is devilish and delightful. Both pathos and humour come through in absurd situations and smart dialogue. Everything is on point. The result is satisfying and the production is a great success.
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