Review: HUFF

by Lynn on October 15, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Aki Studio, Daniels Spectrum, Toronto, Ont.

Written and Performed by Cliff Cardinal
Directed by Karin Randoja
Set and Costumes by Jackie Chau
Lighting by Michelle Ramsay
Sound by Alex Williams

Huff is almost a text-book look at Aboriginal woe and despair, but with a twist and a glimmer of hope, with an energetic performance by Cliff Cardinal.

The Story. Three brothers are born to an alcoholic mother. The oldest has foetal-alcohol syndrome and terrifies his younger brothers; the middle brother is our narrator; the youngest is a sweet kid under the influence of his older brothers. He thinks he has a magic power-to be able to gently blow a ‘huff’ of breath on someone and make them laugh.

The middle brother talks of the influence of the “Trickster”, that spirit in Aboriginal life who interferes with a person’s existence and upsets everything; who brings bad luck. The brothers were born with few, if any, opportunities. They live in a world of tenuous connection and little support. They find kicks in deliberately setting a fire, which in turn accidentally burns down a motel. Petty crime is their world. And suicide.

The Production. A desolate mound of ‘earth’ and an upturned chair are the props. Panels with ‘nature’ painted on them add a backdrop. The play opens on the middle brother on the floor with his hands cuffed behind him and a plastic bag tightly taped around his neck. He wants to kill himself. Life is futile. He breathes deeply as the plastic bag plasters against his face. A breath out puffs the bag away. The oxygen is almost gone. He gasps for air. So does the audience in sympathy. He pleads with an audience member to take the bag off and she (in this case) rips it off quickly and saves him. Next she takes the cuffs of tape off his wrists.

He talks of the “Trickster” and how it has factored heavily in his family’s life. How bad luck had dogged them, as has violence, crime, hopelessness and despair. The one twist and glimmer of hope is that while he attempts to kill himself, he doesn’t because he stops when he runs out of air, and gasps for more life. In its way that elevates Huff from being a text-book stereotypical story of Aboriginal life.

Cliff Cardinal is a gifted story-teller and a bundle of creative energy. He plays all three brothers with minimal props or spare changes of clothes; he also plays all the other characters—and there are many—and the family dog as well. Director Karin Randoja has a keen eye for the dramatic image. She guides Cardinal to carefully realize the many emotional twists and turns in the story.

Comment. Huff is certainly harrowing but it could do with some judicious cutting. Too often the play seems to go off on a tangent that might add an opportunity for Cardinal to riff, but muddies the clarity of the play. Director Karin Ranjoja has worked with Cardinal from the beginning on the play. Her keen eye might help with another go round for the play with some tightening and cutting.

Produced by Native Earth Performing Arts

Opened: Oct. 13, 2015
Closes: Oct. 25, 2015
Cast: 1 man
Running Time: 80 minutes

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