Everyone I love has a terrible fate befall them.
“Everyone I love has a terrible fate befall them.”
This gloomy phrase is repeated many times over. It’s Robert’s mantra, both a warning to us—for what’s in store, to not get too close—and, perhaps, an incantation—a desperate attempt to dispel the curse.
Presented by VideoCabaret in association with Crow’s Theatre, an acute sense of dread and loss define Cliff Cardinal’s portrayal of a man who quite literally kills all of the people he loves simply by loving them. Dark humour abounds as he rattles off a litany of the dead. Adolescent crushes, former lovers and good friends meet their end in an absurd, discomfiting, ghoulishly comic array of gruesome scenarios.
There is, of course, some ambiguity here. Is it all a coincidence? He doesn’t think so, neither does director Karin Randoja—and they don’t want us to think so either. Randoja leads a design team firing on all cylinders—JB Nelles (set and props), Sage Paul (costumes) Raha Javanfar (lighting) and Alex Williams (sound)—as they invite us to feel the truth of this curse.
And, for the most part, we do.
There is ominous purpose in each vibrant colour and texture. Three chairs with their own distinct vibes—wicker with comforter, a gaming recliner, rustic wood—conjure a vivid sense of place whenever he finds himself in one. These are backed by lurid banners of stabbed hearts and lightning strikes that serve as garish thematic reminders of love, curse and fate.
A lopsided metal shelving unit teetering precariously in a corner, the contents always in danger of dropping off, is very… upsetting. A looming backdrop of plastic sheeting fills out this intimate space with irregular patterns of colour that serve as a psychedelic Rorschach test. Patterns of light that feel eerily sentient interact with each of these textures to suggest cosmic forces at work.
All of this atmospheric mise en scène strives to persuade us of Robert’s authenticity as a cursed figure. Without these immersive flourishes, so much of Cardinal’s delivery feels like stand-up. He’s a just a regular guy telling us about his wacky life in morbid detail. He stumbles quite frequently on his words, though this sometimes works for the character—as if Robert is constantly getting ahead of himself, rushing to get to the good part, not wanting to face anything too directly.
A fraught relationship with his mother—she’s very much alive!—and the desire to create a family figure prominently in this fable.
Overall, there is a grotesque, goofball charm to Cardinal’s macabre portrait of an unlucky man yearning for connection. The great irony of his plight is hilariously exemplified in the support group Robert joins. Surrounded by people similarly cursed, he learns to survive this condition by not getting close.
With indelicate, sometimes outright hateful musings, he urges us to dislike him. This deliberate alienation—to protect his loved ones—walks the edge of antagonism without ever quite toppling into it. This strange limbo is the most resonant aspect of his story.
While I was ultimately invested, at 80 minutes it does get a little tedious. There is a whole bit with a rhinoceros that I just couldn’t follow at all. Cardinal feels messy and meandering here, but his offbeat and awkward charisma have emotive power that is undeniably arresting. And he absolutely nails the often harrowing beauty of hope.