Huff by Cliff Cardinal at Belfry Theatre SPARK Festival 2016. A review.

Huff by Cliff Cardinal at Belfry Theatre SPARK Festival 2016. A review.

Huff by Cliff Cardinal balances on the razor’s edge of light and dark, humour and despair, myth and reality. It’s one thing to know the sobering statistics, and another to enter, albeit briefly, the tortured and tormented lives of young isolated First Nations kids involved in solvent abuse.

Huff by Cliff Cardinal Belfry Theatre SPARK Festival 2016 photo AKIPARICliff Cardinal in Huff. Photo: AKIPARI

Sparing no grim detail, Cardinal, in a virtuoso performance, brings Wind and his brothers to life and fills their world with mythical beings, and talking animals and inanimate objects. The very forests come alive under the lighting artistry of Michelle Ramsay—skies glow with stars and fire takes wing.

As narrator, Wind, the middle of three brothers, has a sardonic view of life. Head wrapped in a plastic bag, he addresses the audience (his “imaginary friends”) and promises “there is a logical explanation for this”.

Thus begins the uncompromising journey, the unravelling of an uncomfortable and all too common story of life cycles repeating—abuse following abuse.

Fleeing reality for myth, Wind introduces a brave warrior and beautiful girl—his parents, mired—in truth—in violence and alcohol addiction, and their offspring. Charles, the eldest brother is a dangerous sex-addicted psychopath, a fetal alcohol survivor who finds pleasure in inflicting pain; Huff, the youngest, retains a spirit of child-like wonder and innocence despite the gruelling circumstances. Wind is the observer—moving through life, seemingly unaffected, while simultaneously staving off his father and brother and comforting Huff.

Yet, in the midst of darkness and turmoil, in the wake of their mother’s suicide, there is joy and playfulness, and a kokum (grandmother) who cares deeply for her nôsisim (grandsons) and tries to keep them safe. The youngsters find regular shelter in a familiar haunt—an abandoned motel—and regale one another with stories. Childish shenanigans and missteps become adventures—a fiendish skunk waggles his tongue and gives voice to displeasure at being interrupted by the family dog; Sega Genesis becomes a person; the world of school is played out with beer bottles.

Throughout, omnipresent, the mysterious Trickster prowls—looking for his next victim.

Under the guidance of director and dramaturge Karin Randoja, Cardinal has carefully refined the play’s many characters through over 70 performances across Canada. His shape-shifting abilities range from youth to aged, male to female, human to animal and pass from malevolent to wise, uncaring to enthusiastic; darkness is often (and thankfully) deflected in humour and pointed observation.

Huff provokes questions—particularly in a largely white and urban theatre-going population. Chief among them, for this reviewer is “now what?” Is it enough to know, to come briefly alongside the glaring truth and walk a moment with these brilliantly created young people, or is something more required in response?

Huff is the wrenching yet darkly comic tale of life on the reserve, as Wind and his brothers, caught in a torrent of solvent abuse, struggle to cope with the death of their mother. With biting humour and raw, vivid imagery, the young Cardinal expertly portrays over a dozen characters, including Trickster, in his captivating solo performance.

Winner of the 2015 RBC Tarragon Emerging Playwright Prize
Winner of 2012 Buddies in Bad Times Vanguard Award for Risk and Innovation

Huff by Cliff Cardinal
Native Earth Performing Arts, Toronto
Belfry Theatre SPARK Festival 2016
March 15 – 19
Belfry Studio 1291 Gladstone Avenue at Fernwood
Tickets: Tickets: $ Adults – $27.
Discounts: Seniors-10% off; University/College Students-25% off; High School Students-50% off

Tuesday, March 15 – 7:30 pm
Wednesday, March 16 – 7:30 pm
Thursday, March 17 – 7:30 pm
Friday, March 18 – 8 pm
Saturday, March 19 – 8 pm
70 minutes, no intermission / Explicit content / mature audiences only

Written and performed by Cliff Cardinal
Directed by Karin Randoja
Set and Costume Design  Jackie Chau
Lighting Design Michelle Ramsay
Sound Designer Alex Williams
Stage Manager Jennifer Stobart
Production Manager Pip Bradford
Technical Director June Epstein

Disclaimer:  I was offered complimentary tickets to attend Huff.

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