AT THE THEATRE
Edinburgh Fringe 2018: Huff @ Summerhall
This solo show, created by and starring Native Canadian actor Cliff Cardinal, focuses on three indigenous brothers living with the aftermath of their mother’s suicide. In their attempts to deal with the emotional pain, they get caught up in a self-destructive cycle of delinquency, arson, gas sniffing (huffing), suicidal behaviour and more.
Right from its opening, featuring one of its central brother characters (all of whom are played by Cardinal) attempting suicide by suffocating themselves with a plastic bag, we know that we are going to be in for a gruelling and difficult show. At the same time, however, it remains a fascinating one thanks to its star’s powerhouse performance. The story plays out very much like a string of bizarre and sometimes darkly comic episodes: an extended description of the psychological effects of “huffing”, a skunk spray attack which the brothers attempt to resolve via a Native remedy (including jarred tomatoes in their bright red juice), and a flashback to them humiliating a teacher at Canada’s state-sanctioned “reserve school” system.
These are woven together to form a vivid portrait of young people who are a product of both their parents’ dysfunctional marriage (which one of the brothers, named Wind, attributes to a Trickster spirit which continues to curse their family) and of the social marginalisation which they face as indigenous people on the American continent. The most disturbing takeaway message of all is that it is a form of abuse which becomes tragically internalised. It is Charles, the eldest of the brothers, who perpetuates the lion’s share of it. Huff is harrowing indeed and its somewhat rambling, physically messy approach won’t appeal to everyone (be warned - that tomato juice is certainly splashed around). Nonetheless, it’s worth a look if you like your theatre to be challenging, uncompromising and confrontational.
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