Review: Angélique

by Lynn on April 12, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Factory Theatre, Mainspace.

Written by Lorena Gale

Directed by Mike Payette

Set and costumes by Eo Sharp

Lighting by David Perreault Ninacs

Choreographer, Ghislaine Doté

Original composition by Sixtrum Percussion Ensemble

Cast: Jenny Brizard

Chip Chuipka

Karl Graboshas

Olivier Lamarche

Omari Newton

PJ Prudat

France Rolland

A fascinating play given a maddening production that buries the play under over-direction and a sound scape score that distracts from everything.

 The Story. It’s based on the true story of Marie Joseph Angélique, a woman of colour from a small island off Portugal. The play takes place in the 18th century in New France, now Quebec.  Angélique is sold to François, a rich iron factory owner to help his wife Thérèse around the house. Thérèse says she doesn’t need help but François insists. We soon see why. He quietly forces himself on Angélique unbeknownst to his wife and of course Angélique must comply.

Angélique is paired with another slave named César from another household, in the hopes she will get pregnant so there will be more workers eventually. It also shows that these people of power treated their slaves like cattle.

Angélique has a relationship with Claude, a white labourer who promises her he will take her away from there.  The play certainly gives a clear, dark picture of how Canada  treated people of colour all those years ago. Slavery didn’t just take place south of the border.

Angélique and Claude eventually escaped with Claude thinking he knew the way to a new city but they get lost.  In the meantime all sorts of rumours arose as to where Angélique was. During her escape Montreal was destroyed by fire and Angélique was blamed. It wasn’t true.

The play shows the brutality of the times and how worthless the people in power considered people of colour.

 The Production.  The action takes place on a raised platform in Eo Sharp’s set. Characters enter and exit in areas to the side of the platform. Action also takes place on several ladders arranged around the space. . The Sixtrum Percussion Ensemble that created and plays the music is situated on a stage width section above the stage.

Much of the production drove me crazy.  It’s maddeningly over-directed by Mike Payette with actors seemingly constantly on the move on the set, scurrying up and down those ladders used for effect. At times the company walks on slowly as if in a funeral procession and then off stage. What is that about? The production is cluttered with this movement and focus is needed. The complex history and story are drowned out by the lack of focusing a scene while characters are talking, or there is too much movement for no reason, again, pulling focus.

The worst aspect is the almost constant playing of the sound scape created and played live by the Sixtrum Percussion Ensemble.  It’s all well played but why is almost every scene underscored, if not drowned out by this chiming, banging of drums and whacking of cymbals?  Why does a scene that takes place in the iron works factory need sound effects of tinkling bits of metal while characters are trying to converse? Why does the preparation of food need a sound effect underscoring that? The result is that too often the actors are drowned out and I don’t know what they are talking about.

There is a nice effect when Angélique is being beaten and it’s underscored with the whacking together of two blocks of wood. Very effective. But that is a rare moment of an appropriate sound cue. On the whole the production is maddening with this excessive sound.

However Jenny Brizard as Angélique is terrific. She has gumption, confidence and yet your heart sinks for her when François (Karl Graboshas) lurks in the darkness and softly calls her name, beckoning her to come to him. Brizard’s reaction to this creepy man indicates this is not the first time she has to fend off the man of the house. Such sexual abuse is like a cliché by now in this sad history. It’s Brizard detailed and nuanced performance that realizes the full horror of what Angélique had to endure.

Comment. The late Lorena Gale was a respected playwright. Angélique received many accolades. So it seems churlish to say that the script could stand some tightening and cutting. Do we really need to hear so many witnesses at the trial condemning Angélique for setting the fire? We get the point after three false witnesses. This is a quibble. The real problem for me is the over-direction and the intrusive sound scape.  I’d love to actually see and hear Angélique again, but with a different director who doesn’t get in the way of it and no musical accompaniment that overpowers it.

Factory Theatre, Obsidian Theatre present a Black Theatre Workshop and Tableau D’Hôte Theatre co-production.

Began: April 3, 2019.

Closes: April 21, 2019.

Running Time: 90 minutes approx.

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