By Neil Armstrong
Award-winning Canadian playwright, Lorena Gale’s, play, Angélique, is a sharp reminder that slavery existed in Canada, but also opens a window into the relations, between those with power and those, who are dispossessed.
It also showcases a potent example of resistance to enslavement, and the idea that one can win one’s freedom from oppression, even in death.
Directed by Mike Payette and running at the Factory Theatre until April 21, it is presented by Factory and Obsidian Theatre, as the Toronto premiere of a co-production of A Black Theatre Workshop and Tableau D’Hôte Theatre.
In 1734, Marie-Joseph Angélique, an enslaved Black woman, known for her outspoken disdain towards servitude and her masters, set fire to Montréal, completely destroying a hospital and dozens of houses, including her owner’s residence…or so the story goes. Despite there being very little evidence against her, Angélique was convicted, tortured and publically hanged for her “actions”.
Informed by historical transcripts, from the infamous trial, and set against the backdrop of Nouvelle-France, Gale’s award-winning musical play investigates Angélique’s life, in the years leading up to the fire, seamlessly weaving between Canada’s oft-denied history of slavery, to the timelessness of systemic racism in contemporary culture.
Under Payette’s direction, the action moves from one scene to another, on a minimalist stage, where the shifting of a platform determines if it is indoor, outdoor, escape and freedom or servitude.
Arriving in Toronto, following an engagement at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, the cast features: Jenny Brizard as Angélique; Chip Chuipka as Ignace; Karl Graboshas as François; Olivier Lamarche as Claude; Omari Newton as César; PJ Prudat as Manon; France Rolland as Thérèse; and accompanied, on stage, by a live score, performed by the Sixtrum Percussion Ensemble.
Brizard fully embodies the character of Angélique, who everything on stage revolves around. It is her disdain for slavery and of her owner, and her agency to love, who she wants to, and to resist, which propels the actions in the play.
The play also seamlessly moves, from the past to the present, as we see Brizard being tried and changing into modern-day prison garb. It is fitting that a dance of resistance, but also of victory of one’s spirit, is included in the powerful storytelling.
This reminds one, as Payette puts it in his director’s notes, that: “Lorena Gale’s proposal in reimaging and embracing the legacy of Angélique is to place her and the story, in a world, where now is then, then is now. Through the backdrop of 18thCentury, Nouvelle-France, she asks us to recognize the cyclical and systemic nature of the oppression, inflicted on people, stripped of their power – those who are discarded, silenced, and ultimately tortured for their otherness.”
The actors are very strong in their characterizations and the lighting, set and costume and live score make for a thrilling production.
Born in Montreal, Gale was also an actress, director and writer, who worked, extensively, across Canada.
In 1998, Angélique, which was her first play, won the du Maurier National Playwriting Competition and was nominated for Outstanding New Play, at Calgary’s Betty Mitchell Awards. In 1999, it was published by Playwrights Canada Press and received an off-Broadway production. She passed away in 2009.
Payette is a Montréal-based actor and director, who is the co-founder and former artistic director of Tableau D’Hôte Theatre, former assistant artistic director of Black Theatre Workshop, and current artistic director of Geordie Theatre.
Reprinted, with permission, from anglescovered.blogspot.com