— Production photo
The Firehall Arts Centre and PuSh International Performing Arts Festival present Native Earth Performing Arts’ production of Cliff Cardinal’s Huff. In this one-person 70-minute show directed by Karin Randoja, Cree playwright and performer Cardinal embodies over 10 different characters. They include Angeline the dog, a skunk, Ms. R the rez schoolteacher, Mike the dad, Kookum, Charles the older brother, Trickster and Huff the storyteller. Cardinal does an outstanding job portraying these diverse characters with energy, confidence and excellent acting skills. His transitions are tight, and with the help of sound designer Alex Williams and lighting designer Michelle Ramsay the characters appear and disappear just as smoothly as a gust of wind.
Through teachings, stories and memories, middle brother Huff shares his journey and relationship with the other characters through quick and witty dialogue and humorous stage business. The journey is one of a contemporary Indigenous youth’s life on the rez. Cardinal exposes Huff’s experiences with substance abuse, alcohol, theft, sexual violence, racism and suicide. The content of this play is by no means light or agreeable, but especially in view of the recent Canadian Human Rights Tribunal’s acknowledgement of the federal government’s discrimination against Indigenous child welfare, this production doesn’t shy away from the harmful realities that Indigenous communities and families face.
The audience is referred to as Huff’s imaginary friends. This could be an antagonistic poke at Canadians for being silent, passive and inactive towards the realities of contemporary Indigenous issues, especially the intergenerational effects colonialism has on our youth. As Huff keeps saying throughout the performance… “Trickster.” This word is repeated in a “good grief” kind of way. It suggests the struggle to hold onto traditional knowledge, practices and teachings while trying to survive in Huff’s violent and chaotic day-to-day life. Director and dramaturge Karin Randoja has crafted the piece so that it doesn’t have a didactic, depressing or alienating tone. Instead, it is unpredictable, mischievous and energetic. Huff finds joyful moments in a reality that has too often been ignored or silenced.
Especially if you’re sitting in the front row—you’re not getting away with being a passive audience member. If the subject of the play doesn’t get you wanting to take action, you might at the very least walk away with traces of tomato sauce on you.