“In 1734, a Negro slave set fire to the City of Montréal…”
Or, at least, that was the story told by people more than three centuries ago. As part of the city’s 375th anniversary activities, Montréal’s Black Theatre Workshop and Tableau D’hôte Theatre have joined forces to present ANGÉLIQUE by Lorena Gale. This play uses a historical lens to exam the complicated relationship of race and slavery in Canadian history.
On April 10, 1734, just after evening prayers, residents of Colonial Montréal heard the first call of “fire!” pierce the night’s sky. The fire spread very fast, engulfing building after building, burning down the local hospital and some 45 homes on St. Paul Street. Hundreds of people became instantly homeless. Looters preyed on the most vunerable amongst the ruins. According to 20 witnesses who testified during the trial, the arsonist was an enslaved African named Marie-Josèphe Angélique. Convicted on the flimsiest of evidence, she was publicly tortured, then executed and her body burned to ash. The story of the fire and her guilt eventually faded from memory over the last 300 years, as did a more authentic image of slavery in Canada.
Canada’s history of racial politics is usually presented with an air of moral superiority. Routinely, people compare Canada and the United States as if only one of the two countries allowed slavery to flourish. However, slavery was extremely prevalent throughout Canada. Inspite of American stories of runaways fleeing to the Canadian border to find a safe haven, Canada wasn’t merely a safe haven.
ANGÉLIQUE, written by the late Canadian playwright Lorena Gale – and based on true events chronicling the life of Marie-Josèphe Angélique – is an articulation of memory in the form of political resistance. It reenacts the story of an enslaved Black woman imported from Madeira and bought by a Montréal businessman for his wife, but exploited as his mistress.
The richness of play is drawn from a merger of elements of documentary theatre – using historical transcripts and events to stage Angélique’s story accurately and honestly – and heightened drama, poetry and prose to investigate the years leading up to Angélique’s execution. Using a 1734 backdrop of Nouvelle-France, she holds a mirror to contemporary culture wherein the power of this piece reflects the unfortunate timelessness of systemic racism in society. As Black Theatre Workshop Artistic Director Quincy Armorer stated: “It’s still so very relevant. I equate it to the Black Lives Matter movement.”
The cast includes Jenny Brizard as Marie-Joseph Angélique, Tristan D. Lalla as César, a slave forced to produce children with Marie, Olivier Lamarche as Claude, Marie’s French-Canadian lover, Chip Chuipka as Ignace, an iron merchant, Darla Contois as Manon, a native servant, Karl Graboshas as François and France Rolland as Thérèse, the mistress of the house. The production is directed by Mike Payette.
About the Playwright
Born in Montréal, Lorena Gale was an award-winning actress, playwright and theatre director who worked extensively in theatres across Canada. Gale served as artistic director of Black Theatre Workshop for the 1984-1985 Season. Her first play ANGÉLIQUE was the winner of the du Maurier National Playwriting Competition and was nominated Outstanding New Play in Calgary’s Betty Mitchell Awards 98. In it’s Off-Broadway production at Manhattan Class Company Theatre it was nominated for eight AUDELCO Awards. Her solo performance, JE ME SOUVIENS, premiered in Eastern Front Theatre’s On the Waterfront Festival in Halifax and was produced at One Yellow Rabbit’s High Performance Rodeo in Calgary, The Firehall Theatre in Vancouver and the Belfry Theatre in Victoria. Through August 2005, she appeared as Priestess Elosha on the SyFy Channel’s BATTLESTAR GALACTICA.
Lorena passed away after a battle with throat cancer on June 21, 2009.
About the Director
Mike Payette is a Montréal-based actor and director who has appeared on some of Canada’s finest stages including The Citadel, MTYP, Vertigo, The Grand, Factory Theatre, Neptune, and the National Arts Centre, as well as with great local companies Geordie Productions, Black Theatre Workshop, Imago, Repercussion Theatre, and the Segal Centre for Performing Arts among others. Directing credits include the Montréal premieres of A LINE IN THE SAND, ELIZABETH REX, HARLEM DUET, ANOTHER HOME INVASION, and the Montréal English-language premiere of Michel Tremblay’s HOSANNA from which he won a META for Outstanding Direction. He is the co-founder and former Artistic Director of Tableau D’Hôte Theatre, a founding member of Metachroma Theatre, has served as Artist-in-Residence for Neworld Theatre in Vancouver, and was Assistant Artistic Director for Black Theatre Workshop. Last year, Payette was appointed as the new Artistic Director of Geordie Productions.
In addition to the production, Black Theatre Workshop, Tableau D’hôte Theatre and Centre d’Histoire de Montréal have teamed up to bring you a walking tour that coincides with the play.
On March 25 (in English), and April 1 (in French) In the footsteps of Marie-Josèphe Angélique
Who set fire to Montreal on April 10, 1734? Was it the widow Francheville’s Black slave Angélique, who was accused and condemned for the crime? If it wasn’t her, then who is guilty? Or was it an accident?
Investigate the case with the help of a guide from the Centre d’histoire de Montréal and explore the history of justice and slavery in Montreal, when it was a French colonial town.
This tour includes a visit to the exhibition Traces. Places. Memories, as well as an outdoor walk, during which visitors will retrace the lives of Montrealers from the time of New France.
The tour’s starting point will be at Centre d’histoire de Montreal. It ends at Place d’Armes. The duration of the tour is 90 minutes.
ANGÉLIQUE opened on MARCH 16 and will run through APRIL 2, 2017 at the Studio, Segal Centre for the Performing Arts. 5170 Chemin de la Côte Ste Catherine in Montreal, Canada. For tickets contact the Box Office: 514.739.7944 or visit blacktheatreworkshop.ca
For more information about the walking tour call: 514.872.3207