Home Arts Angélique: This is not another slave story

Angélique: This is not another slave story

by Pauline Nesbitt March 21, 2017
Angélique: This is not another slave story

The play sheds light on Marie-Josèphe Angélique’s questionable conviction

Black Theatre Workshop has partnered with Tableau D’Hôte Theatre to produce the award-winning play Angélique, written by the late Lorena Gale. The play gives new life to the real and forgotten story of an 18th-century African slave who was publicly hung for starting a fire that destroyed most of New France, what we now know as Old Montreal.

Marie-Josèphe Angélique’s conviction at 29 years old was based on unreliable evidence and her guilt remains questionable. Gale’s play creates a space for us to reflect on how black people have been and are still treated by authority figures and to question the relationship between the government and the Black Lives Matter movement.

This story focuses on the last four years of Angélique’s life and the usual aspirations that young adults dream of. “I just want to show people that she was a strong and determined human being with goals and dreams, and who was sometimes nice and other times not,” said Jenny Brizard, who plays the protagonist.

“I’m not interested in telling the slave story—we know that one. So, if we’re going to dig a little bit deeper into this story, then we have to look at the people,” said Mike Payette, the play’s director. “For me, the core of this play is really the human condition and those people who are born into, or are privileged to be in a particular circumstance, and what they do with that … it becomes a human story above all.”

Payette and Mathieu Murphy-Perron are Concordia grads who, in 2005, while still students, created Tableau D’Hôte Theatre, to increase the number of Canadian writers’ works being presented on Montreal stages.

Murphy-Perron said, over the years, they had considered staging Angélique: “We knew off the bat that to do it alone would be a disservice to the production and that it would be best if we were able to pool resources with some of the other fantastic companies in town.”  He added that Black Theatre Workshop’s mission of fostering and promoting the black Canadian experience created “a seamless collaboration that has resulted in a perfect marriage of a very Canadian story and a very black story.”

The production will be the play’s Quebec premiere, and is being put on to celebrate Montreal’s 375th anniversary. Many of the cast members are Montreal natives. Gale was born in Montreal and was a highly-respected actor and director.

“There’s been a lot of conversation happening about systemic racism, and those are good conversations to be having.  We see racism in the judicial system when really it’s much deeper than that, since our institutions were built on white supremacy.  So, when we sign petitions for a parliamentary commission on systemic racism, it is important to look at its beginnings in this country, and I think Angélique does that,” Murphy-Perron said.

Angélique runs until April 2 at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts.  For more information, visit www.blacktheatreworkshop.ca.

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