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Split personalities

Actors stretch their thespian legs by switching roles nightly in Canadian dramedy

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/3/2011 (3494 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


TV stars Lorne Cardinal and Craig Lauzon recently rolled into Prairie Theatre Exchange’s office, giggling and effortlessly riffing off each other like some longtime comedy team.

 When that observation is put to the pair -- familiar for their work on Corner Gas (Cardinal) and Royal Canadian Air Farce (Lauzon) -- they admit to talking up the idea since they reunited to continue their tour of Thunderstick at PTE.

Who am I again? Craig Lauzon and Lorne Cardinal trade roles in Thunderstick.


Who am I again? Craig Lauzon and Lorne Cardinal trade roles in Thunderstick.

"We could call ourselves 500 Pounds of Comedy," says Lauzon, looking with eyebrow raised at his acting partner, seated beside him during a recent interview.

"How about Two Little Indians?" says Cardinal, best known as the goofy Sgt. Davis Quinton on the celebrated CTV series that ended in 2009.

These days the two aboriginal performers not only share the stage in Thunderstick, penned by Saskatoon-based Cree dramatist Kenneth T. Williams, but its two roles, which they swap every other performance. That was the pact the two came up with after reading the script about two cousins who land jobs covering Parliament Hill after being estranged since their youth on the reservation. Each actor was anxious to play Jacob, a reporter whose boozing seems to get him into a lot of trouble, over Isaac, a responsible globetrotting photographer.

"I know who I'm playing; who are you playing?" Cardinal remembers the negotiations beginning.

"I said, 'I know who I'm playing,'" was Lauzon's comeback at the time.

It was Lauzon who remembered the way American movie actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly famously traded roles during a 2000 Broadway run of Sam Shepard's True West. The precedent seemed a way to end the impasse amicably and make the dramedy more interesting for them and their audience. Their performances have begged comparison.

"They often say I play the part more handsome and with a goatee," deadpans Lauzon, referring to his facial hair, which includes extended sideburns.

"And they say I did mine properly and correctly," counters the 40-something Cardinal, who sports two earrings. "I think there are two totally different shows, because we play both parts differently. You get two shows for the price of two."

Their performance schedule will have Lauzon playing Jacob for the PTE opener.

"My Jacob is a little dopier than yours," Lauzon, 40, says. "My Isaac is not as angry as yours."

Playwright Williams and Cardinal go way back to Edmonton, where the latter was a rugby player and the former a bartender who poured beer at the team's hangout. Cardinal has since served as dramaturge, director and actor for many Williams scripts. Lauzon met the playwright a couple of years ago in a workshop for Williams' Gordon Winter. The three became fast friends and the playwright has issued them a full licence to take this Thunderstick script as far as they want, comically.


"What makes them funny is that they are in synch with each other," says Williams, over the telephone from Saskatoon. "They are like lead dogs on a sled team trying to push each other. That pushing comes out of respect for each other but also a little bit of competitiveness. They really want to outdo each other."

In 1993 Cardinal was the first aboriginal student to graduate from the University of Alberta with a BFA in acting. The Cree, who was born in Sucker Creek, Alta., won two Geminis for his work on Corner Gas and appeared in the original cast of Ian Ross's Farewel at PTE in 1996.

The Ottawa-born Lauzon is best remembered for his spot-on portrayal of Stephen Harper on Air Farce. The Ojibwa has received two Gemini nominations and is currently artistic associate of Toronto's Native Earth theatre company.

Whichever one is playing Jacob in Thunderstick must open the two-hour production passed out on the floor, the result of another drinking binge. The sight of an inebriated aboriginal is not funny to many non-aboriginal theatre patrons, so all First Nations artists have to factor white guilt into their presentations.

"You have to deal with it," says Cardinal. "I encourage people to check their baggage at the door and enjoy the show as it is."

Both actors want Jacob and Isaac seen as regular guys with many of the same family and marital problems as non-aboriginal spectators.

"It's important to be seen that way and not mystical, noble and brave and being visited by spirits," Lauzon says. "They are just two dudes trying to get along with each other."



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