Cliff Cardinal’s Huff is so devastatingly tragic that it will take your breath away. It is a stark reminder that we still have much to do as a society.
A distillation of the First Nations’ plight in the 21st century, Huff covers a lot of ground in its short 70 minutes: teen pregnancy, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, substance and alcohol abuse, fetal alcohol syndrome, and suicide.
If it sounds a little dark, it is. Even as Cardinal uses a liberal dose of humour with the help of the mythical Trickster to help us traverse this terrifyingly sad tale, the overwhelming sentiment is a lack of hope. There is no Hollywood feel-good ending here, and while its hopelessness and subject matter may disturb, it is still an unfortunate reality that includes a suicide rate among Aboriginal youth that is five to six times higher than non-Aboriginal youth.
Seamlessly blending the mythological with life on a First Nations reserve and the surreal hallucinations from all manner of highs, Cardinal is the consummate storyteller. Told largely through the voice of the middle brother of three, he moves easily between the many characters in his story, inhabiting each with a natural ease that is at times as scary as Huff’s subject matter.
Breaking down the fourth wall on several occasions, he challenges the audience directly, insisting that we not only bear witness but also become a part of this world. In one compelling scene, he pleads with an audience member to give him back the plastic bag that she ripped from his head at the top of the show.
White man’s guilt can be a powerful thing. Even if there is little optimism in Cardinal’s Huff, the cycle cannot be broken until we find solutions. From there comes hope. It is one thing to bear witness; it is quite another to take action. Huff insists on both. We should listen.
Huff written and performed by Cliff Cardinal. Directed by Karin Randoja. A Native Earth Performing Arts production presented by the PuSh International Performing Arts Centre and the Firehall Arts Centre. On stage at the Firehall Arts Centre (280 East Cordova St, Vancouver) until February 6. Visit https://pushfestival.ca for tickets and information.