Cliff Cardinal Transcends Boundaries in Thought-Provoking Story of Substance Abuse

Reviewed by Eden Eidt

Within the first moments of the play, the tension in the audience is palpable. As a duct-taped plastic bag on a man’s head expands out and crumples inward toward his face, a grim realization sinks into the room: he is attempting to take his own life. From the top of the show, I can tell that this is unlike any piece of theatre most of us have seen before. Cliff Cardinal, the creator and performer of this play, is a multi-award-winning Cree writer, poet and actor, known for challenging his audience. HUFF is now on the Auburn stage at the Grand Theatre in London.

Before I discuss the play further, I wish to position myself as a settler theatre reviewer who does not have a lived experience like those depicted in this production. There were many moments in the story that challenged me and caused me to reflect on what was presented on stage.

HUFF is intense–and not for those who do not want to be confronted with the several challenges that Cardinal embodies through a cathartic 70-minute solo performance. As he morphs from one character to another, he weaves a compelling account of life for three Indigenous brothers–Wind, Huff, and Charles—who live on a reservation. The story centres around youth who abuse solvents and who are at high risk of suicide.

Cardinal is provocative and soars as he forcefully navigates this profound story of addiction, harm, and mental health. As an audience member, you are implicated as the imaginary(?) friends of the protagonist and as witnesses to the visceral consequences of the events that Trickster has in store for him—including SEGA, a flaming adult magazine, and even a talking skunk attack.

Despite the serious subject matter, Cardinal cultivates some strikingly funny moments that evoke laughter, but also some necessary and poignant silence. This seems to be the spirit of HUFF—humour and reflexivity occupying space simultaneously in a salient moment that demands well-deserved attention and ceaseless reexamination.

If you wish to witness some truly impactful theatre, take a step outside of your comfort zone and join Cardinal on a gripping and boundary-breaking journey in HUFF.

HUFF continues with six shows a week at the Grand Theatre, Auburn Stage, 471 Richmond Street, London, Ontario until February 17. Call the box office at (519) 672-8800 or visit for tickets.

Photo: Cliff Cardinal. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

Written and Performed by Cliff Cardinal
Grand Theatre, Auburn Stage, 471 Richmond Street, London, Ontario.
February 6, 2024 to February 17, 2024.
Reviewed by Eden Eidt
Note: The Grand Theatre publishes this Content Advisory: This production contains audience engagement, strong language, solvent abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic and sexual violence, death by suicide, explicit sexuality, and mature themes including: intergenerational trauma, the cycle of abuse, colonization, homophobia, sexual violence, and voyeurism.



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