From set to stage

Lorne Cardinal returns to the theatre with Copper Thunderbird in Nanaimo

Lorne Cardinal

Lorne Cardinal


During their first collaboration, playwright Frank Moher had actor Lorne Cardinal performing as a gay architect and kissing a mime.

That was during Cardinal’s last days as a student at University of Alberta, and Moher was the playwright commissioned to create an end-of-year piece.

Although they have no plans to re-stage that play, Cardinal and Moher are working together once again on Western Edge Theatre’s production of Copper Thunderbird, which follows the challenging life of aboriginal artist Norval Morrisseau.

“It’s not a biography of his life,” Cardinal said.

Rather, the play, written by Marie Clements, follows three different phases or shadows of Morrisseau’s life and the people who weave in and out.

Morrisseau, who spent his final years in Nanaimo, was a celebrated Canadian artist, dubbed Picasso of the North by French media, whose paintings were recognized for their brilliant colours and thick black outlines.

Morrisseau hobnobbed with the cream of society in Montreal, New York and Los Angeles before falling into alcohol and drug addiction. He eventually overcame those issues with the help of a street kid he befriended, Gabor Vardas, who eventually became his adopted son and manager.

“You get to understand what he was going through,” Cardinal said.

Cardinal understands what it’s like to be a popular and famous aboriginal Canadian like Morrisseau. He spent six season playing Sgt. Davis Quinton on the hit television series Corner Gas.

“I’ve been quite busy since the show closed,” Cardinal said.

After the end of the series, Cardinal returned to the stage – his first love – touring the play Thunderstick with Royal Canadian Air Farce alumni Craig Lauzon to five cities.

After Copper Thunderbird, he travels to Kamloops to star in another play before jetting off to Ottawa for an all-aboriginal production of King Lear at the arts theatre. In addition to acting in the Shakespearean play, he’s also the assistant director and shooting a ‘making of’ documentary about the play.

He said he’s not afraid to use the cache of Corner Gas to get bums in seats for theatre productions.

“What I got my training in is theatre,” he said.

While film and television pays the bills, theatre offers beautifully written, crafted stories told in sequence and offers an instant audience reaction.

The two-week rehearsal periods allow an actor to thoroughly explore a character. Although for Copper Thunderbird, the production has already been blocked out and workshopped and is just waiting for the final touches.

“They’re already in full swing – I’ve got some catching up to do,” Cardinal said.

Western Edge Theatre’s production of Copper Thunderbird opens at Nanaimo Centre Stage, 25 Victoria Rd., Sept. 21 and ends Sept. 25. Tickets $10-22. Please visit