The Toronto Theatre Review: Factory Theatre’s Wildfire
The slow-burning embers of Factory Theatre‘s magnificent Wildfire are planted wisely and carefully within the first of three scenarios. They tentatively simmer on the edges, waiting for some act of will and wonder to grab hold of and embrace. We lean in intently to this wickedly twisted dark comedy, written most beautifully by the French Canadian playwright, David Paquet, who most deservingly won the Governor General’s Award for French-language drama at the 2010 Governor General’s Awards, and the Prix Michel-Tremblay, for his play Porc-épic. We are kept wondering and waiting, waiting for the threads that will bind these characters together, and deliver to us a way to find intimate connection to these quirky three souls. It’s spellbinding, the way they reach out and call one other, with and without much hope of having their needs met, playing with us as the embers turn to flames, slowly engulfing the play and the house with their burning tendrils of heat and hurt.
Exquisitely translated by Leanna Brodie (For Home and Country) from Paquet’s play, Le brasier, the three orphaned souls, each living in different apartments are slowly weaved and bound together by the subtle and instinctual writing. We discover their intimate emotional connections, inch by inch, step by step, call by call, all within the same familial and physical structure that binds them forever together, and as each layer of that fire is built and burnt, the love and the hate of the flames dance before us with an ease and an intensity that is studiously astounding.
Each of the three lost souls; Claudette, Claudine, and Claudia, deliciously portrayed by Soo Garay (YPT’s Antigone; Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale“), Paul Dunn (Buddies in Bad Times’ The Gay Heritage Project; Pig), and Zorana Sadiq (Crow’s Theatre’s MixTape) respectively, have their own particular cross to bear, sparking curiosity with almost every line spoken and phone call taken. It’s captivatingly unique, filled with a subtle snap of quirkiness and intrigue. “I want to push you in the fire“, says Claudette’s baby, his first words to a very overly anxious mother, desperate for love and connection. We sit back wondering what we just heard, and what it could possibly mean, but as the cookies, both deadly and unbearably bad, and more are baked in the proverbial oven of this play, waiting to be brought out and delivered to the world, we can’t help but be ensnared by the play’s warmth and its danger. It is surprisingly complex, our attachment, even when the fire and a baby boy burn it all down to the ground, the engagement lives on, leaving us wondering, most excitedly, what Paquet has in store for us in the next bit.
And it doesn’t disappoint, as the story finds a way back in, giving off a feeling that is so fresh and different from the first. This time forward, two lost souls, played by Dunn and Sadiq, find one another in the oddest of stairwell spaces. It feels compellingly different, with a beautifully singed edge of romance and wonder, yet cut from the same cloth and place of attachment. It’s hard to describe the detailed awkwardness that unpacks its way onto the stage during this wonderfully thoughtful idea, but the second part completely finds its fire in the two characters’ spark, lit by the surprisingly strong connection that only in the last moment is drawn together with the first. An impressive feat.
The same can be said of the third and most impressive last delivery of Wildfire. A woman named Caroline, magnificently embodied sleekly by Garay, unpacks a world of serial killers, eroticism, obsession, and figurines, that feels, once again, like a whole other world, until it is drawn together with such simplistic but surprising ease. “I should have had a fucking IUD” is a cigarette-burning framework that repeatedly blows oxygen onto the smoldering embers. Without a doubt, it’s these three amazingly talented actors that make the wondrous flames lick and delight all that comes close to this Wildfire, with a brilliance of light and fire that will forever burn into your soul. Especially the hypnotizingly good Garay, who delivers two characters that are as unforgettable as this wild and deliciously wicked play.
To say more might be the theatrical crime of the century, as the writing and the performances, staged most elegantly by director Soheil Parsa (Buddies in Bad Times’ Blood Wedding) never fail the piece one bit. Parsa and the design team; consisting of set and lighting designer Kaitlin Hickey (Globe Theatre’s Miss Caledonia), costume designer Jackie Chau (Theatre Aquarius’ Sexy Laundry), and sound designer and composer Thomas Ryder Payne (Soulpepper’s Kim’s Convenience), find their way through the abstract and surreal, giving the piece both an honest weight and a fantastic heat that resonates deeply.
Each of Paquet’s characters are forever real, even in their oddness. The real tragedy, he says, is that all these complicated souls, unaware of their connective tissue, are desperate to find connection outside of the orphaned cage each finds themselves trapped in. There is hope within the flames, tentatively lighting a match of desire with the hope to belong to something outside of themselves, even for a moment. Whether that means sharing a straw at the movies or looking for the hammered man of your dreams in a dark alley. It’s in the everyday ordinariness of Paquet’s message that fuels this Wildfire to grow into something truly wonderful and honest. The play’s dark humor and abstract yet honest awkwardness will warm you with wonderment and joy, while playing delightfully in my mind for days to come. We can’t help but be drawn in, like a fly to the proverbial flame, and get close and personal to Factory Theatre’s wonderfully great Wildfire.