Talisman Theatre’s Wildfire is currently playing at La Chapelle, and I took the opportunity to peep the play.
The credits and awards that this group has attained in their various endeavours already gave a clue about the calibre I could expect.
For example, this is the English version (translated by Leanna Brodie) of David Paquet’s Le Brasier, which itself received both the BMO Award, and the Sony Labou Tansi International Francophone Theatre Award, and it’s been placed in the internally renown directorial hands of Jon Lachlan Stewart.
At its core the story is one of generational trauma haunting a bloodline beyond household walls. It deals with loneliness, longing, the potential fatality that stems from a lack of joy. To me, it was also about what we mean to say versus what words actually come out, as the characters share their deepest truths with the audience while cherry picking their words to one anothers.
There are three players (Julie Tamiko Manning, Kathleen Stavert, and Davide Chiazzese), six characters, and one set. Each actor plays two parts, and without costume or set changes, the task falls solely on them to distinguish themselves.
They not only pull it off, they ace the assignment. And these aren’t easy characters: they are flawed, pained, desperate people.
It seems improbable to portray murder, sex, death, and passion, with such minimal design, but it’s all alive and bubbling with no need for accoutrements.
They were not joking when they billed this as a dark comedy. In fact, they could ‘ve capitalised the Dark, or even DARK.
There are jokes, and it is funny. I wondered, though, if some of the many laughs were out of discomfort: the kind of laugh you try so hard to suppress when someone says something too personal, too true, let alone when they say it to a whole room.
In fact, one of Kathleen Stavert’s characters compares the audience to her cookies: she talks to them, but they never respond, which liberates her to tell them all her secrets. And she doesn’t once hold back, delivering with a vulnerable honesty that makes you want to look away, but you can’t: she’s begging you not to, pleading with you to listen to these things she can’t share elsewhere.
There are long pauses here; measured words, awkward silences, cringeworthy revelations. The tension is intentional, and doesn’t let up. Lots of folks aim for this vibe, but this strikes the chord.
While the playwright, translator, and director obviously deserve kudos, it would’ve all been for naught had it not been for the top tier performances of all three players. The actors were harmonious together, their characters whole and complete, as though once the script ran out they could still exist beyond the stage.
At the end of the show, there’s a moment of silence; breaths are held for a second before we realize it’s over, and then in the rush of our exhale, we leap to our feet for a standing ovation.
Afterwards, walking home, the image that sticks with me is about the taste of homemade cookies cooked without a home. It may sound like nothing, but I turn it over in my mind, and find it precise and profound, speaking directly to the heart of isolation.
I don’t often go to plays, but when I do, I want them to be this good.
Wildfire runs January 16-28 at La Chapelle Theatre, 3700 Saint Dominique St. For info and tickets, please visit the Talisman Theatre website