Review: A Radical Retelling of As You Like It.

by Lynn on October 1, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live, in-person, indoors in the Guloien Theatre of Crow’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont. until Oct. 24. 2021.

www.crowstheatre.com


Writer/performer, Cliff Cardinal

Creative co-conspirator, Chris Abraham

Creative co-conspirator, Rouvan Silogix

Lighting designer, Logan Cracknell

Cliff Cardinal is charming, impish and smiling. He’s also angry. He is giving the land acknowledgement before the beginning of his “radical retelling” of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, and he just hates them—land acknowledgements. He hates it when a white person gives them—disingenuous. And he hates it when Indigenous people give the land acknowledgement. Mr. Cardinal is Lakota-Dene, born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. He’s angry because the land of the Indigenous people in this country and in the U.S. where his father lives, was stolen by settlers. He’s angry at those professing to be allies when it just seems like lip-service. He says that to an Indigenous person the land is like Mother. So when oil spills on the land, as from an oil leak from a pipeline, it spills on Mother Earth. He’s angry about climate change. He’s angry at the rich because they don’t work hard. A person who picks strawberries works harder. (Interesting that. I was sitting up the row from the people whose name is on the theatre where we are. I was sitting in front of a couple who own a vineyard in Prince Edward County who gave a lot of money to this very theatre company. I was sitting behind generous, respected patrons of the arts, who also donated money to this company. Hmmmm.)

Cliff Cardinal then segues in his land acknowledgement to residential schools and the unmarked graves that were ‘found.’ He unloads about how the Catholic Church is responsible for the horrors of the residential schools; this segues to pedophile-priests, cruel nuns, the Pope and his lack of condemnation. Cliff Cardinal is angry that only teachers who could not get jobs where they wanted to teach come up north to (badly) teach Indigenous students and then leave as soon as they get a better job where they really want to teach. He wants better teachers for Indigenous students. No argument there.   

He quietly rages about many minorities who have also suffered over time: Syrians, Rwandans, Bosnians, Rohingya, Palestinians. While he tangentially references them, conspicuous by its absence is any mention of the Jews in that list. I found that interesting.   

For that long extended, occasionally funny, anger-filled land acknowledgement, Cliff Cardinal,  is giving the audience “the finger.”

It’s opening night of this new show. It’s also the first ever National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a somber day of reflection, responsibility and consideration. Many people in the audience wear orange to commemorate the thousands of Indigenous children who were taken from their families to attend residential schools and the thousands who did not return. And with quiet charm Cliff Cardinal gives his unsuspecting, captive audience, “the finger.” Without actually flicking that stiff middle digit or saying F—K-YOU the point of his extended land acknowledgement is clear. He is telling the audience his truth and reconciliation is impossible.

There is a post-show message in the program that says that aspects of the play….”shapes the audience’s experience in a particular way and invites the audience (we hope) to think about the actions of the artist, our expectations as theatre-goers, and the social, political, and economic conditions that underpin the theatre-going experience. We hope you will walk away tonight thinking about your experience of the show and live with the feelings and thoughts you had while watching it.”  Gawwd. Ya know, for really smart theatre creators, as the ones involved in this enterprise, they can be really ‘thick’ and clueless. The quote betrays such an ignorance of audiences and what they think and how they feel when they watch a show. Of course the audience thinks about the experience! And they live with the feelings. Why do you think they show up? And the place was buzzing with comments at the end so the creative co-conspirators should be happy.

And as for the ‘radical retelling of As You Like It? I didn’t.

Produced by Crow’s Theatre.

Playing until: Oct. 24, 2021.

Running Time: It doesn’t matter.

www.crowstheatre.com

Leave a Comment

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Carmen Grant October 1, 2021 at 11:15 am

Why do I think they show up??
Well, after years of standing onstage (and watching opening night audience reactions from beneath the bleachers or through a crack in the curtains), it is painfully obvious that many opening night audience members DO NOT GIVE TWO FLYING FUCKS about what’s happening onstage (or offstage).
On opening night, many audience members “show up” because they were given FREE TICKETS to attend something their company sponsored as a tax write-off. It’s a change to eat, drink, and be merry, while looking good for showing up IN FRONT OF THE BOSS. Many of these folks would much rather be at home in front of their TV’s, or at a sporting event.
They neither deeply care about theatre nor do they spend a lot of time thinking about the experience they had after they leave the building.
On opening night, you, Lynn, are a rare kind of audience member; one who, I have always assumed, realized and acknowledged your rareness, and who felt a specific kind of compassion for the plight of live performance (specifically live theatre) in a country that is so woefully under-funded by its governing bodies that it relies on corporate sponsorship to stay afloat. You’ve seen thousands of theatrical performances, and you love theatre (at least, in theory).
However… your review of this particular show reveals that you not only lack that specific kind of compassion, but are actually (sometimes) as “‘thick’ and clueless” as you seem to think the very people who have been involved in this particular endeavour are.
How can you, after decades of sitting in the theatre, have so completely missed the point of this production’s attempt to bring awareness to privilege, rage at history, and ask an audience to think deeply about things that are uncomfortable for (almost) all of us?
Frankly, your inability (willingness?) to sit quietly with the confusion, frustration and anger of an Indigenous person’s experience surrounding land acknowledgments (and much, much more) – without feeling the need to contribute your two cents worth – reveals not only your white privilege and fragility (yes, I use the word purposefully), but that you are leaning closer and closer toward becoming the type of audience member I’ve mentioned above. You may have thought about the experience, but you haven’t explored your feelings around it with anything less than a knee-jerk response. WHY IS THAT?
While I understand that you are, in fact, a theatre reviewer, I question why you felt it was necessary to offer your (reactionary) feelings around this specific production.
It’s troubling, Lynn.
It’s troubling.
I’m not suggesting you have to like everything you see, nor am I suggesting you speak favourably of everything you see, regardless of whether or not you like it. What I AM suggesting is that you might have wanted to take a little bit more time to ponder your thoughts and feelings about this theatrical experience, and that you might also want to do a little bit more “work” around examining your privilege – and when the best moments to remain quiet and just listen might be.

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2 Megan Kinch October 1, 2021 at 2:56 pm

This review is disguisting. Why, may i ask in this country which has recently doscovered the graves of *children* is in inappropriate for an indigenous person to be angry? How is that inappropriate? Since when is anger not an emltion that can be expressed through theatre.

The quotations around ‘found’, the vauge and unjustified insinuations of anti-semetisim, the claim that theatre must cater to the tastes kf well-heeled audiencr- but most importantly the rage at seeing expression of indigenous anger- all of this makes this review disgusting. Im ashamed that someone wrote this in this time of reconciliation and accountability.

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3 Joshua Browne October 1, 2021 at 3:12 pm

Why did you headline this with “Review” when you didn’t review the play?

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4 Junya Watanabe October 1, 2021 at 4:08 pm

Defending the rich won’t make you rich, idiot.

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5 Lydia M October 1, 2021 at 4:12 pm

Honestly, it sounds like this reviewer missed the whole point of the production they were seeing, which is pretty embarrassing for someone who is a professional theater attendee.

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6 GOFUCKYYOURSELF October 1, 2021 at 4:19 pm

WOW. Way to out yourself as anti-Indigenous. The quotes around “found” are disgusting. Our people are rightfully angry and if that makes rich people uncomfortable then GOOD.

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7 Yikes October 1, 2021 at 4:39 pm

YIKES

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8 Zak Jones October 1, 2021 at 5:14 pm

This is a sad review from someone with a lot of blind spots.

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9 Topher Grant October 1, 2021 at 5:24 pm

Thanks for writing an honest response! I’d like to hear more about the play, but I have seen a number of shows now with these extended, acrimonious (or self-flagellating) land acknowledgements.

It’s disheartening that he was essentially saying that reconciliation is impossible, despite all evidence pointing to the contrary: it’s a show created and led by an Indigenous artist; presented by a well-resourced theatre company that has two Indigenous shows in their season; paid for by the government, the wealthy, and the Hal Jackman Foundation; and watched by an eager audience. All on the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. I’d be frustrated to receive that fire-and-brimstone sermon in the face of all that, too.

Don’t waste your breath arguing with the folks in the comments, the “sit in your silence” and “educate yourself” and “do the work” people. They like to lead inquisitions, but it only works if you give them power.

Looking forward to reading your next review, Lynn.

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10 OhhhhhLookAnotherRacist October 4, 2021 at 4:44 pm

YIKES. All evidence pointing to reconciliation? Ummm… sure. We have a right to be angry. The government is literally fighting survivors of residential schools in court, but okay. Hundreds of babies didn’t make it home and the bodies are still being found. You live and thrive on our graves and profit from our suffering. Stay mad about an Indigenous man calling out the rich and powerful. #LANDBACK

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11 Elizabeth Staples October 1, 2021 at 5:36 pm

If you cannot write about the arts without being racist, outdated, classist, and just outright mean, then you need to stop. You are actively hurting the people in this industry and community and you should be disgusted. This is not a review this is a shining example of your poor ethics and morals.

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12 Steven October 1, 2021 at 6:18 pm

I ‘found’ a mistake posted here. Under “Running Time” it says “It doesn’t matter”, when that should actually be listed under “Lynn Slotkin’s Career”.

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13 Dirk October 1, 2021 at 6:23 pm

I’m pretty shocked with this review. I’d understand if a reviewer felt something was poorly acted or poorly scripted, but one of the chief complaints seems to be that the playwright should have been more appreciative of their rich patrons. This is kind of … the grossest review I’ve ever read. And that takes a pretty gross reviewer to write it.

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14 E.B. October 1, 2021 at 6:27 pm

To begin, I agree with his review. Well, I agree with aspects of this review. Parts.
For context, I saw the second preview of this show with a friend; so I’ve had about six days to think about this play, and talk with other people about the show… and it’s “secret”.
In short, I did not like this production. At all. It actually made me angry.
Now, the reason why it made me angry has nothing to do with politics or culture or race or anything about the play and it’s message/content.
I was mad because my friend and I went in expecting, nay, promised, a production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. And instead we got a 90-minute land acknowledgement. I will repeat: They are advertising a Shakespeare Show, and deliver zero percent of what they promised.
This is false advertising, plain and simple. I believe the term is “bait-and-switch”.
I’m not upset about the land acknowledgment. I’m mad that it wasn’t what I bought. If Cliff had performed my favourite play, or screened my favourite movie, or set up a delicious buffet of food and booze and threw a lavish dance party; I’d be just as upset. I bought a ticket to see a Shakespeare show. Crow’s Theatre and Cliff promised me a Shakespeare show. So, after spending days building up excitement and anticipation for this show, I find out that it isn’t what I was promised. And not in the sense of “well, that’s your interpretation”. No. Lynn is right. This was a giant middle finger.
And I can’t exactly ask for a refund.
Imagine another artist attempting this stunt; and, yes, I refer to this as a “stunt”. It’s performance at, at best. Obviously not Shakespeare.
I think it’s cynical. Why couldn’t Cliff simply produced a show called “Crow’s Theatre presents: Cliff Cardinal’s Radical Land Acknowledgment”?
Why the lie? Why the deceit? Why not trust the content and let the play speak for itself? Why couldn’t this land acknowledgment have been the play without all of the lies? I’m sure people would have seen a land acknowledgment if you marketted it honestly. Hell, I’m sure Lynn might have given a more upbeat review if the production would give the audience more respect by being up front with the play’s content.
(On a personal note, the mentions of rape and pedophilia are very triggering. This comes out of nowhere. I can only imagine what it must have felt like being someone with sexual assault related PTSD to expect a calm Shakespeare show and end up with talks about children being raped. For that, I say Shame on you, Crow’s. That’s dangerous and highly triggering, even if you have a Councillor in the other room.)
Also, I admit that this next point has nothing to what happened on stage; but, for some, this is the first theatrical experience in over a year and a half, due to COVID. And we are taking a risk getting together in a closed space, even if Crow’s takes the necessary safety precautions. And *this* is how you treat us? Our first play after the bulk of a pandemic is a lie? A major F–K You?
There were even multiple times where Cliff would say, with a cheeky grin. “Y’know this isn’t As You Like It” “There’s no Shakespeare tonight. This is the show” (paraphrasing). Bragging about the big lie. Giant. Middle. Finger.
That is where Lynn and I agree.
Less than five minutes into the show, as it dawns on me that this IS the show, I seethed with anger. And I remained angry for the rest of the show. (again, to be clear, I was NOT angry because it was a land acknowledgment; I was angry because everyone at Crow’s LIED to me, from the Box Office to Front of House to the Artistic Director, they all lied to us.) I probably would have listened if Cliff were honest and respected me as an audience member. But he didn’t. He just didn’t. It was a waste. I was insulted.
Let me put it this way, would you not be upset if a large theatre company promised you a show about Indigenous Culture with a full Indigenous Cast and Crew (for instance Mno Bimaadiziwin, which Lynn gave a glowing review to a while ago), and you and your friends bought your tickets, you get to your seats, the lights go down, and it suddenly dawns on your that the play is actually William Shakespeare’s As You Like It? With an all-white-hetero-male cast? It doesn’t matter how good the show was, this is not what you paid money to see. You’d be as angry as I was.
This *Stunt* sets up a dangerous precedent where theatre artists can outright LIE to your face about their work, and the lie basically goes unpunished.
As an audience member, I’m insulted.
As a theatre artist, I’m terrified.
We need to nip this in the bud, asap.
In the end, if you asked me about the show and what I thought of it, I think Lynn said it best: “It Doesn’t Matter”.

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15 Mickey October 1, 2021 at 9:08 pm

It’s crazy E.B., it’s almost as though the experience made you feel like how indigenous people have felt for 500 years. Broken promises? False advertising?
You really could have used this as an opportunity to flex those empathy muscles and dig into what it means to feel that sort of anger, but not even on the scale of one night seeing some art you didn’t ask for, but on the grand scale of lost territory, genocide and cultural abolition. Yet, here you are whining about it like a privileged little goof.

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16 E.B. October 1, 2021 at 9:18 pm

If I went to a restaurant owned by an Indigenous person, and ordered a sandwich from their menu, and they served me a bowl of stew, am I obligated to eat the stew because the owner of the restaurant is indigenous?

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17 E.B. October 1, 2021 at 10:24 pm

If I bought tickets to a Kanye West concert; and, instead of a concert, there was a 90-minute speech about Black History and slavery, I would be just as upset. You’re saying I should be happy with this event, because white people owned slaves.

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18 E.B. October 1, 2021 at 11:04 pm

Here’s the issue with the evolving audience response for this show that I find interesting:
There are now two types of audience members for this show 1) those who knew the secret and knew that this was not Shakespeare and only land acknowledgment; 2) and those who thought this was Shakespeare and were surprised to find that it’s only a land acknowledgment.
So, from what I can see, Lynn and MyEntertainmentWorld.com seem to be the only critics who saw the show blind. MEW’s review kept the secret and Lynn told the truth.
From now on, the rest of the run (which recently received a one-week extension) will be people who are expecting a land acknowledgment. Which, apparently, misses the point of it being called “William Shakespeare’s As You Like It” in the first place, since there is no surprise.
(Maybe this will surprise a few people, but with social media being rampant, and reviews coming out, the secret will definitely spill to most people)
The shock and performance art aspect of Cliff’s show is gone. This is now a regular play. And the reviews in the next few days won’t express the feeling of being misled.
It seems that only Lynn’s account will record the fact that people were misled and this performance was a shock to those who saw the previews and early shows. And some people were upset. Not all, but some. From what I can see on social media, people who saw the show liked the show.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I have a feeling the atmosphere, impact, and supposed purpose of the show has definitely changed overnight.

My Entertainment World Review:
https://www.myentertainmentworld.ca/2021/10/cliff-cardinals-as-you-like-it/

19 Bojo October 2, 2021 at 3:35 pm

It’s crazy, Mickey, it’s almost like you’re so insecure in your own confrontations of social and historical injustices that you need to be literally tricked into attending a lecture about it without consent. That’s fine, of course, but what is not fine, is that you seem to assume that everyone else around you must need to go through that same enforced experience in order that they might only then be able to “flex their empathy muscles”. I can’t imagine thinking that a poorly executed theatrical stunt cast within the formulaic and exclusive conventions of a settler art form is in some way earth shattering or constructive, but that doesn’t make me a “goof”.

I’m squarely with EB on this. We get that a break in contract in this context is the point. Well done, clever artists and producers. Clap clap clap. Original. But that doesn’t mean we have to sit there and be forced to contemplate as if part of some forced group education event. Now, admittedly I’ve cancelled my tickets now, haven’t actually seen it, so I probably can’t convincingly contribute to this and other post show conferences. But if it is what it sounds like, I’m afraid I just don’t have enough time and patience left in my old age for this oft repeated kind of cheap, nihilistic, artistic pretence. That’s just me, though.

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20 Friend October 16, 2021 at 10:43 pm

I just have one question for you, E.B. If it was called Cliff Cardinal’s Radical Land Acknowledgement, would you have bought a ticket?

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21 SNL October 1, 2021 at 10:06 pm

this
ain’t
it.

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22 JB October 2, 2021 at 11:48 am

The artistic bait and switch. It’s a trick as old as time itself. In my considerable time I have seen it done really well, and seen it done immaturely, just for the sake of it. I remember, rather painfully, making the latter mistake in my high school drama efforts and being widely scorned by my drama teacher for it. But I digress. Sounds like there is nothing original in this production’s version of trickery, except in its timing. We could argue all day long about that – the opening cynically timed to fall on the first T&R Day, the absolute privilege of being able to go to a live event in an enclosed space while the pandemic is still happening (at the exclusion of others), the money spent on tricking a quite specific audience that didn’t need to be tricked when there are hundreds of arts workers within Toronto itself for whom the wolf is about the tear the door off its hinges. I would suggest, however, that the worst theatrical folly of all is self-indulgence, and from what I’ve read here and elsewhere, it seems to be that this project represents this folly in its entirety, not least in its bizarrely selfish acceptance of the potential spread of a deadly transmissible disease as an acceptable price to pay for teaching a lesson to those who either weren’t asking to be taught it in that moment, and/or who don’t need to be taught it anyway. I’m all for breaking the artist-audience contract, but seems like in this instance it falls flat, and in a pretty annoying way.

(And I for one won’t be going to Crows Theatre again for a while if they think this is challenging art).

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23 Shanda Bezic October 2, 2021 at 3:42 pm

I haven’t seen the show. But… um, Lynn, you ok? This review reads almost like a satirical sketch about an insensitive completely tone deaf irresponsible “reviewer” that is completely and totally missing the point. And its the punchline is ITS NOT EVEN A REVIEW! Lynn, honey, you ok? I’d take a little break and have some quiet time. I’m really embarrassed that this is the level of “critique” we have in Canada. Yikes indeed.

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24 J Good October 2, 2021 at 4:15 pm

After our white liberal guilt “holiday” I’m feeling truthful and reconciled to hearing the same tropes over and over.
I agree with the actor in question about the triteness of the land acknowledgement announcements. Far better to give part of our ticket sales to pay long overdue ‘rent’.
I also agree with the critic about the tone-deaf condescension of the programme note.
Theatre audiences are not our biggest problem.

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25 Claren Grosz October 4, 2021 at 8:46 pm

Lynn is angry. She is returning home from a play and she is angry. Lynn is writing a review. She’s telling us about a land acknowledgement. The artist mentioned Mother Earth! He mentioned climate change! He suggested berry pickers who migrate miles to labour for pennies under awful conditions work harder than the generous wealthy! She’s telling us how an Indigenous artist expressed that he’s angry because of genocide. But mostly she’s telling us how she’s angry. She’s angry she had to listen to someone express anger about genocide. (Interesting that. The reviewer seems to think her anger is perfectly acceptable to express. Hmmmmm.) She then goes on to unload about how very personally she takes everything and how orange shirts are reconciliation. While she tangentially references ‘found’ mass graves, conspicuous by its absence is any empathy. I found that interesting. The blog post betrays such an ignorance of the job of a reviewer and general decency. But the post is buzzing with comments, so she should be happy. Days shaved off my life reading this blogpost: It doesn’t matter.

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26 Anne October 9, 2021 at 12:52 am

Jamaicans have this saying: if you throw a stone into a hog pen, the one who squeals got hit

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27 Phillippa Lloyd Chambers October 9, 2021 at 1:14 am

Haven’t seen the piece by Mr. Cardinal so can’t comment on Ms. Slotkin’s Letter. But if I were to react to it , I hope I would agree or disagree with her or perhaps a bit of both. I would attempt to create a dialogue with her. But what I read here in some of these “comments” is nothing to do with dialogue. What I read is an appalling attempt to silence an opinion other than the commentators. By all means disagree and offer your own take on the piece. But these attacks, these motions to cancel, are demeaning to not just the person you are attempting to censure, but to yourselves.

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28 Trisha D October 11, 2021 at 11:59 pm

You’re no longer relevant as a reviewer, haven’t been for over 10 years, and now the lily white Toronto theatre landscape is becoming more and more muddied by BIPOC voices. We get it, you’re offended. Just write that from now on. It’s succinct, apt and very on brand for you as a boomer Karen.

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29 Mather October 13, 2021 at 6:03 pm

Truly a masterful review, if it can generate such strong feelings about the reviewer and the play from people whose only exposure to the work is this review!

Seems to me that of the commenters here, the ones who agree with the review and express the least hatred for the reviewer are the ones who have actually seen the performance. Call me crazy, but when assessing the quality of a review, or, apparently, the reviewer as a person based on a single review, those are the opinions that matter most to me.

I’d be very interested to hear from you people again after you’ve seen the performance, see if you still agree with your comments here.

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30 Aaron October 13, 2021 at 11:41 pm

Hey! I saw the show and disagree with the review. I loved the fuck you nature of the show, I love how it subverts expectations, I love how it dares to challenge it’s audience by betraying their expectations by allowing them to sit in their discomfort.

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31 Friend October 16, 2021 at 11:21 pm

Pretty easy to tell from this review and the comments below, who has and hasn’t done the work of examining their privilege and thinking deeply about the subject matter touched on in this show. If you’re angry about this show, you might want to spend some time thinking about why that is. It ain’t cause you had a burning desire to see yet another adaptation of Shakespeare.

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