Sign Language

The antitheses of urban experience are at the core of Angelique, too, but in much more annoyingly predictable ways. The heroine of Lorena Gale's play is an African slave imported from Madeira to Montreal around 1730, and purchased by the wealthy owner of an ironworks, ostensibly to cheer up his wife after the loss of their child. Of course, the rich man takes sexual advantage of the slave; the wife, aware of this but unable to stop it, maltreats her. She is mated with a male slave belonging to her master's business partner, producing children who die, or whom she kills, in infancy; she cultivates a romance with the family's white indentured servant; she tries but fails to make kinship with a Huron woman who slaves for an elderly neighbor. When Angelique's master dies, she learns she is to be sold again, and arranges to escape with her lover; at the same time, somebody conveniently burns down Montreal. Captured, she protests her innocence, but is tortured and hanged just the same.

Michael Kendrick, Thomas Sadoski, and Linda Hart in Gemini: bipolar explorations
photo: Susan Cook
Michael Kendrick, Thomas Sadoski, and Linda Hart in Gemini: bipolar explorations


By Albert Innaurato
Second Stage Theatre
307 West 43rd Street

No doubt there's drama in this piece of history, but Gale hasn't found it. Her script at least always stands on its dignity, coming off more like a Canadian Uncle Tom's Cabin than a Montreal Mandingo. But the preordained patterns into which everyone's talk and relationships fall are no advance; Mrs. Stowe was the smarter as well as the more prescient writer. Angelique is dressed up in a variety of current devices— repeated phrases, tidbits of silent ritual, anachronistic allusions to Mercedeses and vacuum cleaners— most of which, having no inherent connection to the material, distract from the drama, rather than enriching it. Except for a few startling scenes— like one in which the wife beats a rug while speaking aloud her reasons for beating Angelique— there's almost no sense of discovery, of surprise, of a life lived by individuals within the parameters we already know too well. Only Lisa Gay Hamilton's presence, as Angelique, and to a lesser extent those of Pamela Nyberg and Jonathan Walker as her owners, give Derek Anson Jones's production some moments when it can wriggle free of the script's mechanical earnestness. Hamilton's petite, striking appearance, the anguish suddenly bubbling up beneath her composure like a chemical compound seething in a retort, always give her performances a daring, unexpected rhythm that cries out, here, for a truer and richer text to speak. Actual slaves left actual narratives and testimonies; my guess is that hearing Hamilton read them would make an evening worth several hundred productions of Angelique.

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