Arts & Entertainment, Theatre

David Paquet’s ’Wildfire’ is a blazing success

Although January in Montreal is synonymous with grey skies and plummeting temperatures, the city’s vibrant theatre community is still blazing—and nowhere is this more evident than in Talisman Theatre’s bold production of Wildfire by David Paquet. A triptych of intergenerational trauma, the play depicts the lives of a set of deeply unhappy triplets living in a triplex as they navigate twisted familial connections. Set against a backdrop of glittering, floor-to-ceiling gold streamers (courtesy of set designer Odile Gamache), Wildfire expertly weaves elements of classical Greek tragedy with a dark, often grotesque comedic sensibility. 

The production’s cast comprises Julie Tamiko Manning, Kathleen Stavert, and Davide Chiazzese, all of whom portray two distinct characters at different points of the play in an impressive display of range. At the show’s outset, the three appear as triplets Claudie, Claudine, and Claudette, who hurry on and offstage as they recount complicated familial relationships and their searches for connection with their inner child, their life, and their mailman, respectively. This first act comes to a dramatic close when they are subjected to a chilling curse from a psychopathic baby. What follows is a litany of over-the-top moments—the death of a pet tarantula, a young woman’s perverse interaction with a serial killer, and a prolonged sequence of feet-licking are just a few examples that come to mind—that left the audience to split their time between bursting with laughter and squirming in their seats.

First produced by the Centre du Thêâtre d’Aujourd’hui in 2016, Wildfire is the English-language translation of playwright David Paquet’s smash-hit tragicomedy Le brasier. This Governor General Award–winning artist is no stranger to the city’s French-language theatre scene. A proud graduate of the National Theatre School’s playwriting program, Paquet has lived in Montreal for many years and even received the Prix Michel-Tremblay for his play Porc-épic, which was produced by local theatre company Théâtre PÀP in 2010. However, Wildfire is his first English-language production in Montreal and serves as his introduction to the city’s anglophone audiences. While this novel attempt to connect with the city’s English-speaking theatregoers may seem daunting to some, Paquet feels much more excitement than trepidation. 

“This play seems to me to be a perfect fit for an encounter with this new audience, both neighbouring and yet unknown, since it intertwines the notions of otherness and home,” Paquet noted in the show’s press release. 

To make this leap between the Two Solitudes, Wildfire is being presented by Talisman Theatre in partnership with La Chapelle Scènes Contemporaines, a contemporary performance venue and creation space where directors and producers can stage their shows. Founded by Lyne Paquette and Emma Tibaldo in 2006, Talisman aims to present English-language premieres of Quebec plays in translation. Wildfire is also part of Centaur Theatre’s Wildside Festival, which runs from Jan. 16 to Feb. 11 and features five distinct plays curated by theatre artist Rose Plotek. A powerhouse of anglophone theatre in Montreal, Centaur Theatre has made it a priority to make deeper connections with the francophone theatre community and promote cross-cultural connection this season, and their support will undoubtedly draw more anglophone spectators to this delightfully twisted play. 

For fans of the original French text, rest assured that this translation by Leanna Brodie maintains its tongue-in-cheek humour. The direction by Jon Lachlan Stewart is based on the original production by Phillipe Cyr, honouring the show’s vaudevillian nature. The production also doesn’t leave its francophone spectators out in the cold. Subtitles are projected throughout the show to a small screen visible only by the back three rows of the audience members, keeping the spectacle linguistically accessible without distracting from the action onstage.

Six years after its original French premiere, Wildfire is a bold new English-language translation whose sardonic humour and twisting, cyclical storyline will offer audience members on both sides of the aisle plenty to talk about. 

Wildfire runs from Jan.16 to 28 at Théâtre La Chapelle as part of the Wildside Festival. Tickets can be purchased online at https://lachapelle.org/en/schedule/wildfire-1-1 (Regular: $30; Students: $25)

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