HUFF (Dependant Theatre Projects) 2012 SummerWorks Review

I thought I had probably seen my favourite SummerWorks 2012 when I walked into The Theatre Centre to see HUFF. I was wrong. HUFF is a tour de force performance and creation of Cliff Cardinal who uses every inch of the stage to create a story both hilarious and horrible – the sweet and sad story of three brothers growing up on a northern Ontario First Nations reserve.

It is directed expertly by Karin Randoja and uses a wonderful set created by Elizabeth Kantor. Every element is used here – the stage in it’s entirety – equipped with a massive plastic bag backdrop, a chair, a milk crate, a paper bag and beer bottles.

It’s been a long time since I have had an experience in a theatre where a set is used as well as this – even more impressive in that it is one of so many shows being featured at The Theatre Centre so the set must stay relatively simple. The plastic backdrop serves as a massive projection screen that becomes everything from a fire to a shower. The stage feels encased in the same plastic that the kids use to get high and to commit suicide.

Every element of Cardinal is used as well – his playful frenetic shifts between characters, his characterization of all things in the boys’ world including their Sega Genesis, the animals in their world (I love that they have a dog named Angelina) and the beer bottles that serve as other boys in the school.

I am almost out of words for this show –that’s how good it is. The writing is so specific and heartbreaking. Cardinal fully engages his audience from the get-go and brushstrokes the story of this broken First Nations family in a way that feels authentic to the story – using spirit voices, animal imagery and sadly, dream-like moments when the characters inhale (or “huff”) cans of gas and bottles of Lysol. You will most definitely laugh. You will most definitely cry.

The only thing for me was trying to keep up with the many, many characters in this story, but even when I wasn’t exactly sure who was talking, I didn’t care. The story was there. Cardinal is a gifted writer, performer, storyteller and improviser. I especially loved the invocation of what the community calls “Trickster”.

The minute the lights went out, the person next to me gasped. Then the audience was instantly on it’s feet. This isn’t just my favourite show of SummerWorks – it’s my favourite show this year. Just like his characters, Cliff Cardinal has a “sacred gift from Creator”. What absolute power it is to witness. If there is a government official that doesn’t believe that SummerWorks deserves funding, they need to see this show. It is a story of Canada’s First Nation’s community and that is a story that deserves telling.


  • HUFF plays at Venue E: The Theatre Centre (1087 Queen Street West)
  • Show times: Mon. August 13, 6:30 PM, Fri. August 17, 7:00 PM, Sat. August 18, 11:30 AM, Sun. August 19, 2:00 PM
  • All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at, By phone by calling the Lower Ossington Box Office at 416-915-6747, in person at the Lower Ossington Box Office (located at 100A Ossington Avenue) Mon. – Sun. 12PM-7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)
  • Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows

Photo credit: 

– Photo courtesy of The Government of Canada