Saturday, April 13, 2019

Angelique _ Factory Theatre

playwright Lorena Gale

Lorena Gale's proposal in reimagining and embracing the legacy of Angelique is to place her and the story in a world where now is then, then is now. Through the backdrop of 18th Century, 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.

An epic setting, (designed by Eo Sharp) giving performers and musicians the space to both separate and unite -  to even climb above the chaos of their segregated locales - gives Lorena Gale's powerful drama room to breathe and allow for a kind of brutal cathartic experience to take place in the theatre. Directed by Mike Payete with an acute eye for inhabiting and enlivening many playing spaces, the play takes on a sharply woven set of blocking tableaus and levels of action for meditative rage/response to be enacted and fully realized.

By combining historical moments seemingly far apart, yet so close, Gale's tightly woven script reveals systemic racism as a connected web spanning centuries within Canadian culture. Ultimately becoming an intense and sobering insight into both change and the deadly ways in which change takes far too long to happen, and then seamlessly turns inward upon itself to erase some of the meagre steps forward. 

Begging the question, does supposed change simply clothe itself within yet another dangerous economic structure? Capitalism and the rise of the iron industry figure greatly in this complex drama chronicling the life of a single woman of colour, spanning centuries in a realist fantasy of sorts. This melange of historical events becomes embroiled within the intricate layers of industry, domestic labour, and inter-racial romance. Ultimately abandoned by all of these formidable barriers/relationships, she rises out of the 'fires' (both literal and figurative) she is accused of creating. No spoiler intended, and yet the symbolic/realist nature of this play is, in its final moments, simply put, about the often futile attempts to burn it all down and start anew.

Angelique is a timely national drama as we find ourselves enmeshed within harshly divided current events around corporate scams boiling over in the Prime Ministers office, a young man of colour dying in an Ontario prison within days of his incarceration, and the ongoing and maddening struggle to address the rights of indigenous peoples, rights infringed upon daily by the disrespect and political maneuvering we see around land claims and the murder and/or disappearance of indigenous women. Issues that have yet to be addressed and afforded significant change  on a federal or provincial level.
And yet, for all its sharp and moving political power, the current production of Angelique at Factory Theatre is also a beautifully realized staging of an important transhistorical play. 

In the lead role, Jenny Brizard brings incredible grace and intensity to the plight of a young woman trying desperately to attain personal freedom - embracing community, and yet retaining her right to love whomever she chooses. As her romantic interests weave in and out of the narrative - both chosen by her, and foisted upon her - Karl Graboshas as Francois, Olivier Lamarche as Claude, and Omari Newton as Cesar, reveal the two-faced charm and possessive force of misogyny as it moves in and out of the pivotal sub-narrative, and plays forcefully and deceptively beneath the central motif of the play; History... History in all its convincing formations and way of representing profound diabolical change. This sense of history is the main culprit in this drama as we are gradually convinced that capitalism is the ongoing wound - and the raging fire that tears it all down is the only real fiery salve-cum-solution for many disenfranchised subjects.  

PJ Prudat's (Manon) monumental musical vocals - framed by an effective understated performance - performed from the heights of an elevated space, ring expansively throughout an open set that makes the mainspace at Factory Theatre loom larger than ever before. France Rolland as Therese portrays a stoic power and manipulated cruelty as she stands her very fraught ground within a dominant white male ruling class that places its women on the botton rung of an impossible and insidious romantic/industrial ladder/equation. 

Sleazy male power, in bed and in business, creates fleeting sympathy for a white woman (France Rolland as Therese) who lapses into an ultimate betrayal of the women of colour who are placed below her in an ongoing cultural scheme of racism, sexual abuse, and violently enforced servitude. 

A musically diverse and full orchestra (Sixtrum Percussion Ensemble, original composition) looms above the action, enforcing a constant and seeing accompaniment/punctuation for all that occurs below - providing haunting, at times discordant and shattering commentary on the spoken narrative. 

Chip Chuipka as Ignace is the pivotal older white ruling male who becomes the glue for the other men to become intricately stuck within. His intriguing and abject persona seethes and convinces with skilful power and manipulative motivational force.

ABOVE - Olivier Lamarche as Claude with Jenny Bxrizard as Angelique

At one point, midway through the performance, an audience member abruptly left the theatre, clearly distressed by what was happening onstage. Audible enough, as she exited, to be heard saying "this is too much for me." The representation of racist language that hinged upon the moment she left the theatre, is indeed harrowing, triggering, and brutally uncomfortable, and drives home the fact that this has occurred, continues to occur, in public settings on a regular basis - from the 1700's (the early period of the play) until the present. 

Some progress has been made, and yet destruction and unsolved murder within marginalized settings continues as we struggle within a stolen nation that may never come to terms with its own systemic atrocities. Atrocities committed in the name of frequent colonialist/corporate/industrial 'progress' and the unfair ownership of stolen human bodies. Angelique is a dire warning, a saddening reminder, and a timely call to action for theatre audiences to witness and to respond to...


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