Review: Human Cargo's Night at Factory Theatre (to April 24)

Review: Human Cargo’s Night
playing as part of Factory Theatre's Performance Spring
Continues to April 24

The stark and unforgiving beauty of the Far North and its endless winter nights are the setting for this impressionistic look at the realities lived by its inhabitants - the Inuk - and their knotty relationship with southern Canadians. It's a relationship with a dark and abusive history that extends to a dysfunctional present, and it's brought to life in the strong performances of the two young girls Piuyuq (Tiffany Ayalik) and Gloria (Reneltta Arluk) central to the story.

The story is this: on Piuyuq's 16th birthday, an anthropologist (Linnea Swan as Daniella) arrives in Pond Inlet with the remains of Piuyuq's grandfather, bones that have been sitting in a box on the shelf of a museum for decades. Far from being the Hallmark moment Daniella is anticipating, it opens the doors to the long and sad string of tragedies the family has endured. It's not only Piuyuq's story - Gloria lives a tragedy of her own, both of them raised in the bitter aftermath of a generation broken by the residential school system.

The play unfolds in a series of fragments that include scenes and storytelling, and dance/movement that connect the pieces together. The tragedy is offset in parts by comedic moments, like Piuyuq's eager exploitation of the new visitor's pocketbook when Daniella first arrives in town, and the quirky Candyman, a transplanted Hungarian entrepreneur who peddles his confectionery from the inside of his coat. (Here I have to credit the versatile talents of Jonathan Fisher, who plays Candyman, Piuyuq's father and a few other roles.) But even the humour has a darker edge as it effectively brings to life the unsettling present, where the uncomprehending and abusive southerners of the bad old days have been replaced by the clueless do-gooders of today. 

The lyrical mythology of the Far North takes over the story at times, alternating with the rougher edged realistic scenes. This is a place where spirits live and the silver breath of a polar bear catches at a piece of the moon in the dark - and Inuk teenagers wear miniskirts and listen to Britney Spears. It's beautifully written and anchored by the strong performances of the two girls, and ends on a kind of call to arms to that younger generation.

Night takes a dark subject and illuminates it with the magnificence of the landscape and the poetry of Inuk culture. I have to say, I've learned far more about history and what is really going on in the world from theatre and the arts than I ever have by taking in the news or in school.

All images by Chris Gallow:
• Reneltta Arluk

• l to r: Reneltta Arluk, Tiffany Ayalik, Linnea Swan
• Tiffany Ayalik
• l to r: Linnea Swan, Jonathan Fisher
Written & directed by Christopher Morris
Lighting by Michelle Ramsay
Sound Design by Lyon Smith
Set & Costume Design Gillian Gallow

• Night plays Tuesday – Saturday, 8 p.m., and Sunday, 2 p.m., in the Mainspace Theatre, April 13 – 24.
• Tickets Tuesday - Thursday and on Sunday, in advance, are $30, and $25 for Students, Seniors and Arts Workers (includes HMF + HST); tickets on Friday and Saturday are $35, and $30 for Students, Seniors and Arts Workers (includes HMF + HST). 
• See the website & TOTIX regarding the April 16 show as part of the Theatre Marathon

The box office is open for in-person/phone sales (416 504 9971), Tuesday to Saturday, 1 – 8 p.m., and Sunday at 12 noon – 4 p.m.; online sales are available 24 hours a day at