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- Title: Wildfire
- Written by: David Paquet
- Translated by: Leanna Brodie
- Director: Soheil Parsa
- Actors: Paul Dunn, Soo Garay, Zorana Sadiq
- Company: Factory Theatre
- City: Toronto, Ont.
- Year: Runs to June 19, 2022
- COVID-19 measures: Being sold at reduced capacity to allow for social distancing; proof of vaccination and masks required.
Seeing Canadian theatre in translation is often a reminder of the echo chambers of language in this country. Sometimes, however, it shows us that we have more in common interlinguistically than we think.
If I didn’t know that Wildfire, a dark comedy by David Paquet now on at Factory Theatre, had originally been written in French or that the playwright was from Quebec, I would have pegged him as an English Canadian picking up a playwriting style that was long dominant in the Rest of Canada but that has fallen a bit out of fashion of late.
Paquet seems like a Québécois cousin of Morris Panych or Claudia Dey – whose plays feature the suicidal, serial killers and dysfunctional families liable to go Ancient Greek on one another at any moment, and yet which keep pain and trauma at a safe absurdist or whimsical distance.
Indeed, my first impression of the opening scene in Paquet’s short play in three sections – which is having an Canadian English language premiere in a translation by Leanna Brodie blessed by a trio of lovable performances – was that it could almost be a sequel to Panych’s hit 7 Stories; let’s call it Triplex.
Wildfire initially introduces us to triplets who live in the same building a floor apart – but who communicate almost exclusively over the phone.
Claudette (Soo Garay) is a nervous new mother whose husband took his own life – and now fears her baby son will take hers; Claudine (Paul Dunn) is a depressive who bakes the world’s worst cookies; and Claudia (Zorana Sadiq) keeps sending registered letters to herself because she’s in love with the mailman.
The trio of self-described nutjobs, who had a monstrous mother who regularly told them that she should’ve had an IUD, live in a world with elements of fantasy – where babies can be put in the post, or toddlers might be arsonists.
But individual moments ring emotionally real, as when lonely Claudine describes herself as someone who only buys lotto tickets when the jackpot hits 15 million even though she’d be happy with just two. There are lots of lines that linger in your heart – like the note left behind by Claudette’s husband: “Happiness is like a key. Once you lose it, you’re locked out.”
Director Soheil Parsa keeps the lonely characters in the play locked out from one another in his staging, in their own boxes of light, disconnected by dark – until it is time to bring them together in a light that finally connects them, but also burns. (The lighting and set are both by Kaitlin Hickey – spare, but stylish in a throwback to Factory’s successful Naked Season.)
The second scene in Wildfire introduces us to a pair of misfits who find each other by happenstance – Callum (Dunn again), addicted to his computer games; and Carol (Sadiq again), mourning the loss of her beloved cat. Theirs is a sweet romance with an ending that’s perverse but not disturbing.
Then, in the final scene, Caroline (Garay, in the most fiery performance of the evening) takes the stage solo to tell us about discovering a sexual fetish that upends her world.
There’s a mathematics to the structure of Paquet’s play – counting down from three actors to two to one – and how the scenes ultimately connect that is enjoyable even if it is contrived.
Wildfire is a play full of matricide and incest and murder, but also one where a new couple tentatively shares a straw at the movie theatre and figurines are collected to keep one company. It’s the House of Atreus in bubble wrap.
English-Canadian playwrights have, in recent years, trended towards being more serious – or increasingly wanting to root their plays in real worlds, anyway. Abstract characters who seem to float above race, gender or class have become passé.
There is still an avid audience for plays like Wildfire, however – ones that explore the world from an off-kilter angle and at arms-length, make you think and laugh and not feel too much. You can see why this 2016 play was held over, brought back and toured in its original Centre du Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui production. It sparks joy.
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