Keeping a busy week busy last night, with a third show in as many days. Thank goodness I had the smarts to load up on pierogies and pinball at the awesome HOUSE OF TARG beforehand with the squinky Rebecca Laviolette…gotta keep that theatre energy amped up somehow, am I right?
It certainly did the trick, and we scooted our way down to the NAC for a lively opening night crowd, ready and waiting to see the Ottawa premiere of Cliff Cardinal’s HUFF in the studio space. Directed by Karin Randoja and featuring Cardinal himself as multiple characters, Huff has already toured around to Summerworks, Winnipeg Fringe, PuSh festival, Ode’Min Glizis Indigenous Arts festival and more, loaded up on awards and acclaim, and had itself a nice buzz well before landing in the capitol. The story lands us right smack dab in the middle of Canada’s own dirty little secret, the forgotten and marginalized lives of First Nations youth on the rez, huffing Lysol and gasoline for kicks, burning down the occasional motel out of sheer ennui, and flirting with suicide rates that are way, WAY too high. We follow a group of boys in a typically broken family, alcoholic Mother long gone and an abusive Father who parents with the back of his hand. There’s some dark stuff in here, from a show whose first image is a boy with a plastic bag duct taped over his head.
And yet the amazing thing about HUFF is that, despite all the bleak imagery and crushing events, it’s so damn FUNNY. Cliff Cardinal is a canny performer, expertly balancing the horrors of his story with the innate humour of boyhood and recklessness. He gets the audience on his side pretty quick, and the story builds up a solid head of steam heading into its harrowing second half. There’s moments in this show you’ll never forget, cringes and eye-openers aplenty, but somehow I never felt preached to of smothered (unlike Cardinal himself on a couple of occasions throughout the performance…it got genuinely disturbing more than once, which is a good thing). Cardinals shifts between characters are subtle but perfectly effective, never losing me…his portrayal of wise and grumpy Grandma is particularly wonderful, and a welcome refresher anytime she makes a hunched-over appearance.
Gotta make mention of the set and overall design, a really, really cool environment created by Elizabeth Kantor that’s somehow simple and complex at the same time. HUFF is a complete package..informative, heartbreaking, hilarious and very real. Cliff Cardinal knows how to tell his story, and it’s one that kinda needs to be heard, folks. So go and give it a listen, you’ve got until the 10th of May. Peace, love and soul,
Kevin Reid, the Visitor (and Winston)