Cliff Cardinal Brings his Dark Humour and Challenging Spirit to Shakespeare
February 03, 2022
Much like Trickster, who inhabits the folklore of many indigenous cultures, Cliff Cardinal is a complex, many-faceted artist, who enjoys entertaining, enlightening, and mischief in equal measure. Since his first play, Stitch, debuted while he was still at the National Theatre School, he’s had a huge impact on the Canadian theatre scene; writing, acting and directing works that delve deep into the most desolating subjects, using dark humour and unflinching honesty. The CBC’s review of his smash hit play, Huff, details, “Cliff Cardinal’s Huff touches on solvent abuse, sexual abuse, suicide and the bleak despair of being poor, isolated and feeling irrelevant. It’s not breezy theatre, but it is riveting.”
The struggle of poverty, addiction and abuse experienced by three brothers on a northern reserve could be a grim and harrowing ordeal, but throughout, Trickster, embodied in the character of Wind, brings an element of fantasy that elevates the story to a magical realm of myth and hope. Huff has won the Buddies in Bad Times’ Vanguard Award for Risk and Innovation, two Dora Awards (Outstanding Performance and Outstanding New Play), RBC’s Emerging Playwright Award, The Lustrum Award (which recognizes the greatest moments at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival), and was shortlisted for Amnesty International’s Freedom of Expression Award. The Fringe Festival production garnered a five-star review in The Guardian Observer, calling it a “hard-hitting tour de force.” Huff has been published, translated into French, continues to tour, and has been released as a podcast by the CBC.
“So the craft is to figure out a way to keep the audience’s imaginations engaged. One of the ways that’s done is with comedy, if you open up to something, if you laugh you open up and if you open up then we have a chance of dragging you along into this world now”.Cliff Cardinal
Born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Cardinal is the son of iconic Canadian actress Tantoo Cardinal. When interviewed by the CBC about how he keeps audiences guessing, Cardinal explained, “So the craft is to figure out a way to keep the audience’s imaginations engaged. One of the ways that’s done is with comedy, if you open up to something, if you laugh you open up and if you open up then we have a chance of dragging you along into this world now”.
Cardinal’s first multi-character play, Too Good to Be True, opened Video Cabaret’s 2019 season at The Busy St. Theatre in Toronto with Cardinal himself directing. NOW Magazine said, “This captivating tale of an off-grid mother and her desperate children solidifies Cardinal as one of the most talented and intriguing writers in the country.” On the music front, his band, Cliff Cardinal and the Skylarks’ are “hilarious and nefarious, Toronto-based, genre-flying, on beat and off-colour”. Their two albums: This Is Not A Mistake and Gonna Be Fine are available online. Cliff Cardinal’s CBC Special is not a CBC special, but an evening of words and music delivering original, dark and catchy folk songs; miraculous stories of familial resilience; legends of Turtle Island survival; and “new contributions to the ongoing mythology of the Canadian experience”.
Cardinal’s newest project is called William Shakespeare’s AS YOU LIKE IT; a radical retelling by Cliff Cardinal, which is having its Western Canadian debut at the 2022 PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in February. The title of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It holds a double meaning that teasingly suggests the play can please all tastes. But is that possible? With his subversive updating of the Bard’s classic, Cardinal seeks to find out. The show exults in bawdy humour, difficult subject matter, and raw emotion; Cardinal is not one to hold back when it comes to challenging delicate sensibilities. Is Trickster at work here? See for yourself when William Shakespeare’s AS YOU LIKE IT: a radical retelling by Cliff Cardinal plays February 4-6 at the York Theatre. Get ticket here.