Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic
From my high school days in the late 70s, I can recall in my French as a Second Language class the story of Marie-Joseph Angelique, an enslaved Black woman, who was publicly executed for supposedly setting fire to various residences in the merchant area of Montreal (including that of her owner’s along with a hospital) in 1734. ‘Angelique’, now on stage at Factory Theatre, uses the backdrop of 1734 New France to mirror our modern culture.
Lorena Gale’s text, which has been informed by historical transcripts from the trial, is chock full of the use of poetry and prose to tell the story up to Angelique’s execution. It took several moments to get used to this back and forth transition, but that didn’t deter me at all as Angelique’s story is one that must be seen and heard for its relevance today that systemic racism still exists in our Canadian mosaic. At times, the script is a difficult one to watch as it reminded me once again of the injustices of slavery that existed within Canada, but according to director Mike Payette, “[Ms. Gale’s text] is unapologetic…while calling on each of us to deeply consider the social and cultural realities that make ‘Angelique’ as urgent as it was centuries ago.”
To walk into a theatre and see a dark stage with faint light on a riser was a mysterious effect, but it worked for me as I was looking around and trying to see as much as I could of Eo Sharp’s set design. I could make out the second level where the percussion ensemble would play.
There are so many dynamic theatrical forces at work in this production thanks to a clear vision direction by Mike Payette with one being the use of music by the Sixtrum Percussion Ensemble. Their original composition heightens and intensifies so many dramatic moments of the plot that I closed my eyes periodically as I wanted to hear the music.
Additionally, the seven-member cast is compelling to watch as I believed them for their very natural performances. Of note is Jenny Brizard as the protagonist whose performance of character depth allowed me to see a woman who truly spoke her mind and wasn’t afraid to let others know how she felt about her masters. There is one haunting moment near the end where Ms. Brizard locks eyes with her mistress, Therese (played by a solid France Rolland). Ms. Brizard’s burning look in her eyes showed she was truly not afraid in standing up and valuing her worth.
Omari Newton as Cesar and Olivier Lamarche as Claude offer intriguing performances of men whom we think Angelique might be able to trust, but sadly this is not the case. Karl Graboshas as Francois, husband of Therese and master of Angelique, offers a finely in tune performance of a wicked man hell bent on destruction and deception.
‘Angelique’ continues to April 21 at Factory Theatre Mainspace, 125 Bathurst Street, Toronto. For tickets please call the Box Office at (416) 504-9971, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.factorytheatre.ca to purchase online and other information.
Running time is approximately one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission.
The Cast: Jenny Brizard, Chip Chuipka, Karl Graboshas, Olivier Lamarche, Omari Newton, PJ Prudat, France Rolland.
Director: Mike Payette; Set and Costumes: Eo Sharp; Lighting Designer: David Perrault Ninacs; Choreographe: Ghislaine Dote; Stage Manager: Birdie Gregor
Photo of Jenny Brizard and Karl Graboshas by Andrew Alexander.