By ALAN SHACKLETON
When they say Cliff Cardinal lives in the Dundas and Carlaw area, maybe what they really should be saying is he lives at the Deanne Taylor Theatre on nearby Busy Street.
“Yes, Dundas and Carlaw in the stage manager’s office,” said Cardinal in an interview this week with Beach Metro Community News about his play (EVERYONE I LOVE HAS) A TERRIBLE FATE (BEFALL THEM).
The play, a one-man show written and acted by Cardinal, is now on stage at the theatre until Nov. 4.
“The acting is terrible and the writing is gibberish,” he joked in the interview. Of course, it’s not. Just like he doesn’t actually live in the theatre.
“I don’t live out of suitcase… I live in Toronto,” said Cardinal of his home he shares with his wife Sage Paul and their pets.
An accomplished poet, playwright and actor who attended the National Theatre School in Montreal, Cardinal is also an associate artist with VideoCabaret which runs out of the Deanne Taylor Theatre.
Some his earlier plays include Stitch in 2009; Huff in 2013; the semi-autobiographical Too Good To Be True in 2018; and The Land Acknowledgement, or As You Like It in 2020.
All of those plays have earned honours and attention as Cardinal does not shy away one bit from presenting Indigenous issues and content is a way many theatre goers might not have been used to or even find uncomfortable.
Cardinal, 37, won the Theatre Passe Muraille Emerging Artist Award for Stitch; and a 2016 production of his one-man show Huff (looking at issues of drug and solvent abuse in Indigenous communities) won a Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding New Play, Independent Theatre.
The Globe and Mail named Cardinal as a Canadian Cultural Icon in 2022. He has been called a “polarizing writer and performer known for black humour and compassionate poeticism.”
In 2021, he presented The Land Acknowledgement at Crow’s Theatre in Leslieville under the debut title Shakespeare’s As You Like It: A Radical Retelling. It was billed as an Indigenous take on the Shakespeare play, but was anything but.
Not a line of Shakespeare was in the play, as it was actually all Cardinal presenting a monologue on Indigenous issues in Canada through a “land acknowledgement” presentation at the start that continues through the entire production. Many audience members were taken completely by surprise as they had thought they were going to be seeing an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play.
In A TERRIBLE FATE, Cardinal continues his uncompromising approach to writing and performing. It’s a “dark show, but pretty funny,” he told Beach Metro Community News.
“It’s about the title,” said Cardinal. “If I fall in love with you, then that’s it for you. An anvil will fall on your head or something bad will happen.”
Which is why the character in the play doesn’t want to fall in love or get close to anyone given past experiences or his perception of them. “It’s about the push and pull” and the yearning for love and also “of being afraid of everyone,” he said.
“Everyone suffers and dies, and yet it’s a comedy,” said Cardinal of the play.
While Huff was semi-autobiographical, A TERRIBLE FATE is and is not about real events. The production sees Cardinal perform multiple characters
“Some terrible things have happened and some of the losses are real and some are fake,” said Cardinal. “The lie is to exaggerate parts of ourselves in the story of the lie which is not real but the pain of it is.”
Performing as often the only person on stage in his plays works for Cardinal. “I just don’t get along with other people, and nobody wants to be on stage with me,” he joked.
Working with director Karin Randoja, A TERRIBLE FATE is billed as “a darkly humourous twist on what it means to be human.”
“Karin has put together a wonderful, magical stage and production,” said Cardinal.
He has worked with Randoja on other plays and projects including Huff, and Cliff Cardinal’s CBC Special. She has specialized in helping to create and direct original performances for more than three decades. Randoja is also a founding member of Primus Theatre.
Cardinal said the venue and performance place at the Deanne Taylor Theatre is evolving into a “special place”.
While the life of a playwright and actor in Canada can be challenging, Cardinal learned the realities of the show business world for an Indigenous person from an early age.
His mother is the acclaimed actress Tantoo Cardinal, and he was born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
Tantoo Cardinal, named to the Order of Canada in 2009, has appeared in numerous plays, movies and television shows over her more than 40-year career including Dances with Wolves, Black Robe, Legends of the Fall, North of 60, Mohawk Girls, and New Amsterdam. Her work meant Cardinal grew up in both Toronto and Los Angeles.
“I know that the phone rings or it doesn’t,” said Cardinal about what the future might hold. “My mother’s experiences would lead me to believe that things would work out in the end…Maybe tomorrow Martin Scorsese will call me to be in one of his movies.”
Which is, of course, what did recently happen to his mother Tantoo as she plays the character of Lizzie Q in Scorsese’s most recently released movie Killers of the Flower Moon.
A TERRIBLE FATE is being presented with Crow’s Theatre, at Carlaw Avenue and Dundas Street East, but will be performed in the Video Cabaret’s Deanne Taylor Theatre at nearby 10 Busy St. For ticket information and show times, please go to https://www.crowstheatre.com/whats-on/view-all/aterriblefate