The first third of Wildfire, presented by Factory Theatre, seemed a bit too precious. David Paquet’s play, translated from the original French Le Brasier by Leanna Brodie, is an absurdist, darkly comedic take on family trauma. Broken up into three segments, it was mid-way through the second before I fully invested in this quirky fable.
The first oddballs we meet are Claudine (Paul Dunn), Claudette (Soo Garay) and Claudia (Zorana Sadiq). Living floors apart in the same apartment complex, these sisters have survived into adulthood with a hefty load of family baggage. Through their reminiscences, we understand their mother was a resentful, abusive woman—“I should have had a fuckin’ IUD.”
To relieve her melancholy, Claudine bakes awful cookies. Claudette, a widow by suicide, worries her infant son wants to kill her. And Claudia, in love with the mailman, sends herself letters to keep him around. To convey their estrangement, director Soheil Parsa isolates them in their own tense little worlds. Their interactions are mostly limited to twitchy phone calls.
The end of the this first segment brings the trio together in a moment that is weirdly uplifting despite its dark, fiery finality. In the following two segments, the actors portray a new trio—Carol, Callum and Caroline. We gradually discover their family ties and marvel at the spectacle of psyches warped by familial quirks that have evolved and festered.
There is an eerie, thrilling jolt each time we catch an echo of an earlier storyline. Death’s shadow lingers over everything, creeping into even the most mundane, sweet interactions. It thwarts a budding romance and manifests as a hilariously ghastly sexual fetish.
Dunn and Sadiq are a giddy delight as offbeat, haphazard lovers struggling to connect through the murk of inherited neuroses. Garay’s final monologue is truly captivating. She draws the audience into a series of increasingly wild, grotesque episodes. Though it may all be a fever dream, the emotional truth is searing nonetheless.
Aesthetically, the production is deceptively simple. Jackie Chau’s costumes are naturalistic, accenting the character’s eccentricities rather than proclaiming them. There is little in the way of set, but designer Kaitlin Hickey provides simple, evocative light that singles individuals out in a sea of looming black. Fire figures prominently in the story and she bathes the characters in undulating red light to punctuate moments of emotional intensity. Thomas Ryder Payne’s soundscape adds an aural aspect to the story’s funhouse reality.
Wildfire‘s finale reveals an elliptical, looping aspect to the narrative that is as unsettling as it is satisfying. It makes metaphorical, intuitive sense, providing a hypnotic puzzle to work through long after the play ends.