BWW Review: WILDFIRE Burns With Raw Emotion
Theater is at its most compelling when the work on stage stays with the audience long after they have left the production. This is especially true with Upstream Theater's Wildfire, a well-acted and perfectly executed play that delves deeply into the psyche of some pretty ugly people.
Making its American premiere with this production, Wildfire (Le Brasier) is a compelling work by Quebecois author David Paquet and translated by Leanna Brodie. Consisting of three linked stories, each combining intense drama and dark humor to explore the psychology between three generations of a deeply scarred and dysfunctional family.
Wildfire begins with The Bonfire, a tale involving three triplets, Claudette, Claudia, Claudine who each live on their own in a three-family flat. Rarely visiting in person, they communicate via phone, eliminating any need for human contact and stunting emotional growth.
As audiences quickly discover, each sister has her own issues stemming from being raised by a cold and emotionless mother. As a result, each one is disjointed in how they relate to each other and other people. Occupying, confined physical and emotional spaces, each sister's reclusiveness masks emotional baggage that hinders them from living normal lives. '
Because of this, Claudia bakes terrible cookies (sometimes poisonous), Claudette locks her baby in a birdcage and Claudette never leaves her home. Feasting on the marrow of rich dialogue, Jane Paradise's Claudette is both melancholic and unhinged. Working alongside her is Nancy Bell, whose Claudine gives viewers a neurotic and lonely mess eager for acceptance. Tom Wethington's Claudia is somewhere in between, giving the first act some nice comedic touches.
A tale of the heart filled with laughter, love and a deadly spider, The Dragons begins innocently enough as a seemingly tender tale of nebbish love. Callum (Tom Wethington) shy and awkward, is a big fan of fantasy cardgames. Carol (Jane Paradise) still in deep mourning for her deceased cat, is in her own emotional funk. Their luck changes, unexpectedly, after a brief encounter leads to an off-kilter romance filled with movie nights and pleasant conversation. Sadly, their dreams and desires unravel when Callum, keen to impress his new girlfriend, plans an ill-timed trip to a chocolate shop to surprise his love.
Pulling on heartstrings, Paradise's Carol is longing, desperate and passionate while Wethington's Callum is an equally isolated soul. Together they are terrific. Each giving perfectly paced performances, Wethington and Paradise have a real energy together. Strafing the tender and the tragic, their doomed romance plays out on the sparsest of sets, allowing each actor to create moments of powerful intimacy and vulnerability.
Absent from the second installment, Nancy Bell holds her own in The Fever. Flying solo for the final installment, Bell shines as Caroline, a fiercely solitary woman whose passion for television succumbs to her libido, creating a series of events that change Caroline's persona from that of a somewhat timid figure into a psychotic firebrand filled with blistering rage. Snarling and slithering, Bell is disturbingly poignant in a performance that punctuates the audacity and tenaciousness of Paquet's work.
Director Philip Boehm gradually ratchets up the tension as the number of props and people dwindles onstage, enabling his ensemble to develop texture to their characters. Their combined efforts make Wildfire an engaging, yet virulent, exploration of parenthood, love, loss, memory and familial distress that continues Upstream's dedication to exposing new work to audiences. Minimalist and mesmeric, Wildfire is the first must see theater event of the year.
Wildfire is onstage at The Marcelle through February 9th. Visit https://www.upstreamtheater.org/