Monday, 26 October 2015

Huff by Cliff Cardinal @ Native Earth Performing Arts

Cliff Cardinal's one-man show Huff isn't an easy night at the theatre, but that is what makes it so important. Beginning on stage with a bag duct-taped over his head, he proceeds through a monologue. This is no stage trick, the bag is really on his head, and we can really see the clear plastic contracting over the contours of his face as he tells us about the game. From this attention-getting starting point, Cardinal weaves through a story of a warrior and his wife, to their eventual children (Don't worry -- he takes the bag off his head before damage is done, but don't think that you're being let off the hook). The story weaves a large cast of characters and voices and perspectives, which aren't always completely clear; at times it was challenging to follow who was speaking, and Cardinal's mainly razor sharp physical and vocal transitions did sometimes lose their specificity. Nonetheless, the story that emerged was at once funny and emotionally shattering.

His playful use of comedy to lull the audience in positions us both as judge and possible saviour, and this is a challenging place to sit for 75 minutes. His jokes veer on the politically incorrect, edging the audience to take stock of when they are more prejudiced than they think they are, and point that judgement inward. Cardinal speaks the unspeakable loudly. And the audience have no choice but to notice.

I would be remiss not to speak of the elegant staging which transformed a small number of props and pieces of furniture into multiple locations and objects, through Cardinal's deft navigation of the world of the play.

This script is difficult. But it is difficult because it lays on the table and shouts all the things that we know in the backs of our minds but won't utter aloud. And it points to the flaws in the system we are all a part of and therefore share responsibility for. I urge you to read or see it if you can.

The show has closed in Toronto but is now embarking on a National tour. There isn't currently a Winnipeg stop, and someone should rectify this immediately.