I don’t think I’ve ever been so disturbed at a show or found something as difficult to watch as Huff. Cliff Cardinal’s one-man show presented as part of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival at the Firehall Arts Centre is a barrage of badly treated characters doing bad things. The content is not for the faint of heart, and if anyone in the audience has lived through any similar horrors, the feelings it might bring back could be quite traumatizing.
The main character, Wind, and his two brothers live on a First Nations reserve in Ontario. They are very young when their mother commits suicide, and their father proceeds to shack up with their aunt (who also wears their mother’s clothes). The play involves the aftermath of this event as well as Wind explaining that the Trickster (a folkloric prankster) can come and disrupt or influence your life when you least expect it.
The show opened with Cardinal speaking to us through a plastic bag that was duct-taped around his neck, his hands duct-taped behind his back. He explained that it takes about five to six minutes for someone to use up all the oxygen in the bag, and that this wasn’t the first time he had attempted suicide in this way. Eventually, he asked an audience member in the front row to help him remove the bag.
With constant neglect from their father, no strong role models, and nothing better to do, the three boys spend their days at an abandoned motel huffing gasoline. The oldest brother forces the two younger ones to perform sex acts for him, and this was the worst scene to watch, as Wind told his younger brother that they had to do what their older brother said.
The brothers also play “the pass out game” where they take turns pushing on each other’s windpipes until they pass out. I don’t think this play left out any horrors including violence, abuse of all kinds, substance abuse, self-harm, and arson.
Cardinal brings a multitude of characters to life aside from the brothers including his father, aunt, grandmother, and school teacher. He should be commended for his bold storytelling and ability to convey it with a relatively simple set, but the play was difficult to watch and I would have a hard time recommending it to anyone.
Also part of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, I saw Relative Collider, a minimalist, experimental dance work from France. This interesting experiment in melding strict patterns and natural language processing to create a dance work was tedious yet intriguing.
The first half of the show involved very little movement, aside from the three dancers moving their heels up and down in time to metronome and a set of eight eight-count patterns. At times they moved so little it was hard to tell that they were moving at all. The patterns repeated, and each time they did the movement would become a bit more expansive.
By the second half, they dancers were actually moving around the stage, and they were accompanied by Pierre Godard reading out randomly generated selections of text that followed the same eight-count pattern. Godard explained after the show that the text samples are taken from open source documents on Gutenberg.org, and ended up being mostly from cookbooks or the Bible.
The dancers were flawless, never missing a beat in this repetitive, pattern-based choreography, but, for the audience, it was not very entertaining to watch. The concept behind the show was more interesting than the show itself.
L’Immédiat, a PuSh Festival show at the Vancouver Playhouse, was an absurdist, surrealist, and circus comedy-inspired show. It was one of the most entertaining things I’d seen in a long time, and had me laughing throughout.
Seven acrobats of France’s Association Immédiat dazzled with their inventive scenes and quirky props. The opening scene was superb, as two performers returned to their small apartment only to have everything fall apart. The table collapsed, the walls tumbled down, and even their pants wouldn’t stay up. The scene evolved from there as the entire stage seemed to be breaking down, and another performer leaped from ladder to wall to chair, each one crumbling or toppling as he nimbly moved over them.
After this opening bombardment of hilarity and slapstick fun, the stage was a complete mess. One of the performers grabbed a megaphone and told us there would be a five minute break as they cleaned up. Even this was a monumental scene of physical comedy as they went about tossing cardboard boxes into the wings, sweeping debris to the back of the stage, and opening the back door of the stage to push everything out of the way.
The following scenes were no less riveting as characters, such as a woman who keeps floating upward and has to be held down and a man who lives in a cupboard, punctuated the scenes with perfect comic timing, and the set pieces moves about as if of their own volition.
This is one of those shows that you don’t want to end. It keeps the surprises coming with endlessly entertaining and creative scenes that are impressive and incredibly clever.
CLOSER THAN EVER
Gateway Theatre’s Closer Than Ever, on until February 20, is a collection of songs about the trials and tribulations of midlife. The cast of five performed this string of songs with bravado and conviction, but I couldn’t help but think that I’d like a little more plot with my song and dance.
There are many musicals with too little plot, or not enough plot-driven songs, but for a musical to involve only a series of thematically connected yet independent songs, each a short story in and of itself, makes it hard to maintain the audience’s attention.
Themes of divorce, marital strife, and unreadiness for the events of midlife like having children, taking care of parents, and growing apart from old friends recurred throughout. A standout song was “The March of Time,” which brought to mind the uncomfortable fact that no matter what we do, time continues moving forward, we get older, and life moves on whether we’re ready or not.
If you’re looking for a nice evening of song by a talented cast, this show will be a delight, but don’t expect to become invested in any characters or to be caught up in climactic events — there are none to be found.