You knew that this was going to be a unique experience when a healer from a nearby reserve came out and said the opening prayer. The lights were lowered and the cast of Angélique (by Lorena Gale, directed by Mike Payette) appeared to the percussive music of Sixtrum Ensemble. This is by way of introducing a play which had new and strange musicality in its language and performance. Payette has woven the contemporary with the historical in a seamless drama. The costumes changed from contemporary to historical in a subtle message that not much has changed for the black community.
The remarkable cast features Chip Chuipka (who has consistently honoured this city with flawless and astonishing performances) as Ignace. He fundamentally takes a very two-dimensional character and breathes a third dimension into him. Darla Contois, from Manitoba is an inspired Manon, the indigenous girl who thinks being a servant is a step up from being a slave. Tristan D. Lalla is a fascinating Cesar who is paired with Angélique and inadvertently begins to think of her as his possession. Karl Graboshas is consistently fascinating as a Quebecois entrepreneur who buys his wife a slave to lure her back into their loveless marriage. Olivier Lamarche is pitch perfect as the indentured servant who falls in love with Angélique, runs away with her, but cannot save her.
Then there is France Rolland, whose fresh performance is inspiring and nuanced in an epic where not much is pitched as subtle. Her portrayal as the cold-blooded Therese has a great many sides. She seems always to hover between determination and ambiguity towards her slave. Finally, there is Jenny Brizard, fantastic as Angélique. Her performance of the heroine’s pain, and aspirations humanize, and make accessible the emotions of an eighteenth-century slave.
The set is a bit too close to the audience, and detracts from seeing the whole action taking place. The costumes are wonderful, and gave the play a realism that makes it more complex and interesting. The lighting could have been brighter… there is no need to cast so many shadows; the play already provides that drama. But the hero of the hour is the director. This script had been passed over again and again because there was no director great enough or visionary enough or tuned into its message and its music as is Mike Payette. He finds a way to create an overlap between the past and the present to indicate clearly that the oppressed and the oppressors will always be with us. His vision and directing have a magical clarity which brings this script to life as no one else could.
Angélique is at the Segal Centre until April 2. Tickets HERE.