Los Angeles, California – What’s one more story about slavery that hasn’t been done you ask? Well, as much as slavery in USA has been covered in many different films and TV what is rarely seen is story of slavery in Canada. Its hard to believe that slavery existed there as Canadians are known as some of the nicest people but I assure you that it happened and thus follows this heart-breaking play, Angelique, based on the true story of the slave Angelique who was brought to Canada. I had the pleasure of catching the finale night and being brought to tears by the power of this play performed in the heart of Los Angeles with the Academy Company, which has been tweaked over so many years to maintain its structure and presence of the legendary man himself.
Angelique transports you through the sound of African drums right at the top of the show and then Angelique (Gioya Tuma-Waku) takes the stage and does a dance of pain and death in a silhouette in the background as the other characters alternately walk across the stage stating that Angelique set fire to the City of Montreal and was hanged. We then move to François (Jake Fortner) who takes us back to the beginning of his unhappy marriage and his instant attraction and need to own Angelique and she materialises in soft light on the stage as he delivers his monologue. We are then introduced to his wife Thérèse (Mary Somers) who dislikes Angelique from the get go because she is aware of the slaves effect on her husband and conspires to marry her off to her husband’s business partner’s slave César (Alex Ajuwon). But Angelique ends up falling for Claude (Liam Silbernagel), their white indenture servant who promises to help her run away. A fire is set, Claude grabs Angelique and they run, however after a few days he loses spirit and he leaves her asleep in the middle of the night. Angelique gets caught, put on trial and then hanged for the fire.
This was a great ensemble piece and all the actors did a wonderful job and are all worth noting, however there were some standouts that I find pertinent to mention such as Alex Ajuwon as César who is at first reluctant to marry Angelique but finally falls for her and still whips her at her masters command before tending to her bruises. He gives a powerful performance as he stands up to Claude for taking Angelique’s love away and Liam Silbernagel as Claude who is not as built as Alex Ajuwon manages to stand his ground believably. He also provides such a tender moment in the woods while he struggles to leave his love behind knowing what the future holds for her. For me however, the standout of the night was Gioya Tuma-Waku who held the play together as Angelique going through the joys of going to a new land and the possibility of a brighter future and then onto the heartbreak of being raped by her Master, the pain of being whipped for dancing and singing and then killing all the children she bore from being raped and finally get hanged. Gioya would often be on stage along for periods of time as she said a monologue recounting her pain, joy, anger and frustration and whether it was a 2 minute monologue, a 5 minute monologue or her interaction with her cast members, I could not keep my eyes off of her. She encompassed the character with such passion, grace and life that I felt like I was looking at the real Angelique.
I will end off by saying that this play was definitely worth your time if you went to see it. I was transported back into time with powerful performances, I cried just a little (a lot), managed a smile here and there but left feeling blessed and educated. 12 Years a Slave may have gotten some of its inspiration from the written text. Angelique