(Everyone I Love Has) A Terrible Fate (Befall Them) Written and Performed by Cliff Cardinal
Now onstage at Videocabaret in the Deanne Taylor Theatre, 10 Busy Street, Toronto
The pervading bizarreness of ‘A Terrible Fate’ is duly matched by an ironically twisted and candid ‘matter of fact’ haunting performance by Cliff Cardinal.
Cliff Cardinal is Robert. Robert tells his story about the various individuals to whom he says those three important words we all like to hear – ‘I love you.’ What becomes incredibly bizarre about the turn of events for these individuals whom Robert says he loves? Each expires suddenly.
Be prepared to laugh, at times rather uncomfortably, throughout this solo panoply of varied human reactions about life and death and (what the Crow’s website bills as), the ‘terribleness [that] lives in between.’
I snickered when “It’s the End of World as We Know It’ played just before Cliff entered at the top of the show.
Cheeky but appropriate.
‘A Terrible Fate’ remains an existential story at heart. Cardinal’s candid script allows audience members to consider their mortality. The production will probably either trigger or anger some audience members for its frank observations about a final event that will inevitably occur to all of us. Nevertheless, the play also celebrates life periodically. Costume Designer Sage Paul has Robert sharply dressed in a burgundy wine-coloured jacket, pants, matching shirt, and dark shoes.
Get it? Amidst the sudden death of each of these loved individuals, Robert celebrates their lives in the ‘burgundy red’ clothing he wears.
Cheeky again, but it makes sense to me.
Raha Javanfar’s shadowy lighting and JB Nelles’ stark set designs catch the eye at first glance. Three different chairs are equally spaced between them. Three burlap-looking banners hang behind each of the chairs. Stage right has the word ‘Love’ and what appears to be hands cupping a human heart. A simple wooden-looking kitchen chair is in front of the chair. Centre stage has the word ‘Cursed’ and what appears to be a sword plunging through a human heart. In front is a grey, comfortable-looking individual passenger car seat. Stage right has the word ‘Fate’ and a picture of dark-looking clouds with a lightning bolt shooting down and hitting a person. In front is a circular wicker chair with a comfortable cushion.
There are moments when Javanfar’s stark lighting hits the banner and lights the heart so that I thought I could see various arteries and the organ pumping blood—a rather clever dramatic technique succinctly captured.
Karin Randoja directs with an acute sense of boldness. She demands that the audience confront the sudden and unexpected moments that life can throw at them. Randoja’s vision for the play remains rebellious and subversive. Sometimes, it’s amusing, but often it’s not pretty. It can be terrifying and profound.
Where did this latter occur for me?
At one point, Cardinal pulls back the banner centre stage and reveals a blazing white object. (I won’t spoil it here) To see it at first is startling. To hear Alex Williams’ sound design of the object’s voice reverberating in the intimate Videocabaret theatre is gripping. It sent shivers down my spine. Again, another clever dramatic technique captured on stage.
Cliff Cardinal delivers a haunting and resonating performance of a tortured man teetering on the edge. At times, his Robert is sane and lucid. There are other times when his Robert intimidates and frightens, especially in his relationship with Sarah, the ambulance driver. Along with his performance as Robert, Cardinal becomes other characters in this journey simply by pulling his long hair back or adjusting his clothing. And I bought it ultimately.
I haven’t seen much of Cardinal’s work – only his controversial 'Land Acknowledgement’ twice and this opening night performance. From what I've seen, he’s a fine storyteller, and I want to see more of his work onstage. He moves with the most remarkable ease in addressing each side of the audience. There are moments when Cardinal/Robert makes eye contact with audience members, and his piercing ‘I’m looking right at you’ stare is alarming initially and then mesmerizing.
Those moments when Cardinal sits in the car seat centre stage are intriguing. It is here where he acknowledges his fears. It is here where the audience begins to witness Robert’s troubled nature. To sit in the passenger seat means one will arrive at the destination; however, said passenger has no other control over the arrival at the destination and must accept what happens along the way.
At one point, Robert moves the seat lever to push the backrest back. That action shows he is willing to accept whatever comes his way.
Final Comments: I’m still pondering the following question even as I complete this article:
‘What does it mean to be human?’
Can any of us even answer it truthfully?
If anything, Cliff Cardinal gets the audience thinking about that final act of death we will face, impacting us whether we’re ready for it or not. He and Randoja remain subversive and daring in approaching this topic of death and whether a terrible fate will befall us at our given moment.
It's bizarre to get us to think about this topic, but that’s a good thing. Cliff Cardinal is one sharp fellow.
He also makes good theatre.
Running time: approximately 80 minutes with no intermission.
‘(Everyone I Love Has) A Terrible Fate (Befall Them)’ runs until November 4 at Videocabaret’s Deanne Taylor Theatre, 10 Busy Street, Toronto. For tickets, crowstheatre.com or call (647) 341-7390 ext. 1010.
A Videocabaret Production in Association with Crow’s Theatre presents the World Premiere:
(Everyone I Love Has) A Terrible Fate (Befall Them)
Playwright and Performer: Cliff Cardinal
Dramaturge and Director: Karin Randoja
Set and Props Designer: JB Nelles
Costume Designer: Sage Paul
Lighting Designer: Raha Javanfar
Sound Designer: Alex Williams
Technical Director: Andrew Dollar
Stage Manager: Jennifer Stobart
Producer: Layne Coleman
Producer & Production Manager: Aaron Rothermund