Review: Huff, Firehall Arts Centre until Feb. 6

First, buy your tickets now, as Huff has been selling out. This is another excellent PuSH Festival production.

Huff is about young boys dealing with solvent abuse, parental alcoholism, and various forms of abuse, on what seems to be an isolated northern reserve. Huff is visceral and raw and real. The audience participates, wittingly or not.

The playwright, and actor of this one-man show, Cliff Cardinal was born on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, but his Canadian First Nations mother is Tantoo Cardinal, an acclaimed actor whom I saw several years ago in a Firehall production of God and the Indian. He stated in a CBC interview that he considers himself neither Canadian nor American, but “Indian”. Although I thought of this show in the context of the stories of the reserve at Davis Inlet, the place could also be Pine Ridge or any of a number of Canadian or American First Nations communities. Cardinal specifically decided to be generic with the placement.

cc(Cliff Cardinal in Huff – photo credit akipari)

In interviews, Cardinal is cagey about how much of the play represents personal experiences, or those of his friends or relatives. But the story and the characters ring true. In this story, you witness the death of youthful innocence. How can such terrible things happen? Why is life so difficult for so many? How can children be at once playful and joyful, but also recipients of so much torment? How can there be so much tragedy, but yet the play has so many humorous moments? Is Trickster evil? Cardinal is a youthful 30, but has written a play with incredible depth and nuance. Cardinal skillfully cycles through an incredible emotional range and 10 characters, with rapid switches between them.

The saddest aspect of this show was thinking about the news stories I have read (like this one about Davis Inlet) and the shows that I have seen which feature the suicides of young Aboriginal people. A couple years ago, I saw Night, another PuSH festival production, about a young Inuit girl’s suicide in the Arctic. I feel like I cannot bear to see another show on this subject without doing something about it.

In the truest sense of the word, the play’s main character, Wind, is a survivor. The play could have taken an utterly nihilistic approach, but hope remains.

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