Edinburgh Fringe 2018
Huff is the wrenching, yet darkly comic tale of Indigenous brothers, caught in a torrent of solvent abuse and struggling to cope with the death of their mother. Their fantastic dream world bleeds into haunting reality, as they’re preyed on by the Trickster through hallways at school, the abandoned motel they love more than home, and their own fragile psyche. With his signature biting humour and raw, vivid imagery, Huff is a daring solo show by award-winning Indigenous playwright Cliff Cardinal, one of the most exciting new voices in Canadian theatre
I did not enjoy this show and I did not want to write this review. I would go so far as to say I did not think I could write this review. The truth is that this performance terrified me and shook me to the core of my being.
“We have disparaging rates of youth suicide. Sexual abuse is a dark part of our national history. First Nation’s people are still fighting to reclaim parts of our culture that were stolen in genocide. Huff is a punk show. It’s a fuck you to a society that would put our little brothers and sisters’ backs against the wall. I wanted to throw a brick.” – Cliff Cardinal
As we enter the darkened space to a scene of disruption we are greeted with nothing but the eerie wash of wind as if we have inadvertently wandered away from the designated path to a more dangerous and unknown place. There are no markers here with which we can associate ourselves save beer bottles and an overturned chair and it’s almost as if we have stumbled upon an awful secret we were never meant to have discovered. Death is pervasive here and seeps into every narrative like an incessant tide lapping at our heels, like an angry dog biting at our ankles. Reality is an unwelcome friend in this world of shadows.
Embodying every character, playwright and performer Cliff Cardinal pulls no punches in this brutally honest journey through the lives of two brothers struggling to understand and acknowledge the death of their mother caught in a destructive spiral of drugs, alcohol, and sexual abuse. The caustic narrative and stark physical imagery along with a seductive yet punishing soundscape catapult us between the dream world, school, an abandoned motel, and the torturous reality of an acidic home in a swirling maelstrom of anger, resentment, and regret.
This is no easy trip and if you’re looking for some light entertainment you are going to be far from the mark. It is never going to be enjoyable or fun. This is a journey of pain, frustration, broken dreams, and missed opportunities told in shocking detail and clarity by a masterful writer and actor. There’s a lot to take in here, not least the factual references which jab at us like a trash collector’s spike. Youth suicide among First Nation’s people is some of the highest in the nation, abuse is an accepted element of society, substance abuse both holds communities together and tears them apart.
Huff is not enjoyable nor should it be. It is in equal parts nauseating and frightening. Perhaps the message of this somewhat apocalyptic tale is really a shout, a cry to be noticed, a scream in the darkness. Humanity cannot survive in isolation. It’s a painful truth and one we often aim to avoid in favor of the easier road of unconditional acceptance. Ignorance, as they say, can be bliss. But we cannot afford unconditional acceptance and Cliff Cardinal’s brilliant if terrifying vision is one that, however hard, we must confront and conquer. This may not be a story you know how to react to or how to deal with right away. It may take some time to wrap your heart and mind around it all. But deal you can and deal you must.
“There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.” – Erma Bombeck