Better Angels: A Parable, playing as part of this year’s SummerWorks Festival, is a play that will make you angry — righteously angry. You will spend the hour fuming, shifting in your seat (and not only because you’re in the backspace at the Passe Muraille), wishing comeuppance and seeking vindication. For all these reasons, Better Angels is worth watching,
Akosua Amo-Adem plays Akosua Mansa, a young woman away from her home country of Ghana for the first time taking position as live-in nanny and housekeeper for a rather well-off Toronto couple Leila (Sascha Cole) and Greg (Peyson Rock) Tate. The moment that Leila asks to hang on to Akosua’s passport for “bookkeeping reasons” strongly foreshadowed how this story would turn out. This is a form of slavery very prevalent in modern first world, liberated society. Akosua may not be in chains but she’s not getting paid either.
The anger in this story stems from how well done the performances were. It’s hard to play ‘evil’ and to maintain a character for an hour that the audience despises and Cole does that incredibly well. Leila is fast-talking, overwhelmingly privileged, and carries her white, upper-class indignation with pride. You want to hate her and you do. The number of flippant, unintentionally racist and colonial remarks coming from her makes you downright cringe.
On the other hand Mansa also does a phenomenal job at portraying Akosua; the live-in help. You empathize with her and for her. The stories she delivers at the beginning and end offer deep insight into what it really means to be free. Her story is the story of every person who has left a life of struggle in the “old country” in search of a better life and the “American Dream” only to find that new life consists of long days, hard labor for little to no pay. But hey, you’re living in a free country now!
The only downside I saw to this production was that the set design consisted of yellow stretches of fabric from floor to ceiling cutting the small performance space at strange angles. In a way, I think this may symbolize caution tape but all in all I found it horribly distracting and it took away from the performances at hand. Especially when Akosua is in her small closet of a bedroom — one stretch of fabric cut right into her sight line, obscuring her face.
I also found the production taking place in the Passe Muraille’s backspace to be detrimental. Aside from the uncomfortable seating, I felt that the small space took away from the production. When the actors were walking around in circles to signify walking through a large house, I found it took away from the moment.
Better Angels: A Parable is the kind of show that will make you angry enough that by the time it’s over, you’ll be itching to find someone to talk about it with. And you should, and then tell them to see it, too.
Better Angels: A Parable plays at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, 16 Ryerson Ave.
- Sunday August 9th 12:30 PM
- Tuesday August 11th 10:00 PM
- Thursday August 13th 5:15 PM
- Friday August 14th 7:30 PM
- Saturday August 15th 5:15 PM
- Sunday August 16th 5:30 PM
Individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Live Art Series tickets are free – $20. Tickets are available online, by phone at 888-328-8384, Monday – Friday 8:30am-5pm, in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth – located at SummerWorks Central Box Office – located at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street). Open August 4-16 from 10am-7pm (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee).
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows.
Audience advisory: Coarse language and mature subject matter
Photo provided by the company.