“It’s a tough watch,” said the man handing over my ticket. He was right. The setting is contemporary Canada. In an indigenous community in the north, three brothers, Wind, Huff and Charles, are growing up. Suicide here is the leading cause of death for people under 44; the show opens with someone attempting to take their own life.
In this solo performance, the identity of the storyteller and the actor can merge: this might be his own story, we’re not sure; the performer chooses to let us know – or not. Poet, writer and performer Cliff Cardinal plays on this sense of uncertainty, constantly shifting boundaries between performer and audience, myth and reality, humour and horror, life and death.
The mythic figure of Trickster flickers through a visceral family story of addiction, violence and abuse. Is Trickster a cause, an excuse, or an hallucination? The two younger brothers counter this brutal world with imagination: they hear talking animals, possess sacred gifts (the smallest can make anyone laugh by just blowing into their face). This is not a move to the cute: the boys get their highs by sniffing siphoned-off petrol and playing games of semi-asphyxiation. Hope lies in their love for one another and in their grandmother’s love for them.
Cardinal’s continuously shape-changing performance ceaselessly requires us to recalibrate our understanding of what we are seeing. He will not let us settle into the comfortable position of voyeurs: privileged viewing under-privileged; non-indigenous viewing indigenous. As the man said, it’s a tough watch. Cardinal offers no glib solutions; he does, though, affirm a position. See a boundary? Challenge it.
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