Photo of Cliff Cardinal
Photo: Dahlia Katz
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Where Shakespeare meets Canadian land acknowledgements

“I fucking hate land acknowledgements,” said playwright Cliff Cardinal as he began his opening segment of As You Like It: A Radical Retelling at the Great Canadian Theatre Company on Thursday night. 

The Globe and Mail’s 2022 Canadian Cultural Icon, born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, has created multiple award-winning productions including Huff, Stitch, and his own CBC special. 

Chris Abraham, the artistic and general director at Crow’s Theatre in Toronto, invited Cardinal to write the first play for Toronto’s East End arts facility after the long period of social isolation during the pandemic. Abraham’s vision was to bring people back together into the theatre and to induce reflection on pressing themes of Indigenous reconciliation in Canada. 

Cardinal’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy has all the elements of unexpectedness as the original play. It’s creative and revises what it means to put on a Shakespearean play in a Canadian context. Although he’s the one putting on the performance, he puts the audience on stand by confronting their performativity in the face of injustices. 

The playwright not only uses poetic prose, but also humour as a way to open up the minds of the audience to the play’s hard and heavy topics. Interwoven are accounts of his own life and the people he grew up with, as a way of commemorating the hardship and willpower of his community. 

The playwright is confrontational and experimental, exploring elements of Canadian identity with Indigeneity. Cardinal introduces the play casually, by emerging from the curtain wearing a black hoodie and a blue jacket, and right away, he has a lasting charisma and refreshing frankness with the audience. 

“He’s very funny, he’s very candid, he’s very raw. He takes his responsibilities as a storyteller and an entertainer and a social critic really seriously,” says Chris Abraham as he described what makes Cardinal unique as a playwright. 

“One of his great skills is that he finds it hard to not tell the truth about what he sees and what he feels, and to be honest, about the world he sees around him. I think that makes him a really exciting dramatist,” he adds. 

Cardinal’s production indeed is a radical retelling — one that you would never expect to experience as a Shakespearean adaptation. Although at first, one may question what the relationship is between Shakespeare and land acknowledgements, by the end, Cardinal makes it immensely clear. 

As You Like It: A Radical Retelling creates a necessary obstruction of the status quo in Canadian arts production. You’re promised one thing, but given something completely new — and in all its shock and unexpectedness, Cardinal forces you to really think and to criticize what you know, for the better. 


  • Grace is a second-year political science student joining the Fulcrum for the 2022-23 publishing year. She has experience in public service, and has volunteered in advocacy campaigns and grassroots initiatives uplifting youth and women. She is passionate about the arts, community organizing, and politics. When she’s not studying or working, you can find her reading or rewatching Seinfeld episodes.