Joseph Addison's Cato, a Tragedy is a play that is at the core of the foundation of the United States. Some of the most famous lines from the American Revolution--Patrick Henry's famous ultimatum: "Give me liberty, or give me death!" and Nathan Hale's "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."--were said to be references to this very play. This play was so important to the formation of our country that George Washington (who was lovingly referred to as America's Cato) defied a congressional ban on theatrical productions and put on a production of Cato for his soldiers in May 1778, at the end of a grueling winter in Valley Forge.
But despite its importance in the founding of this nation, the play has largely been forgotten due to its difficult language and the firm belief that the play is unstageable. But in the fall of 2023, Misty Gale Anderson and the R18 Collective came together to produce this unstageable play, and Angelique was thrilled to be a part of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The team, helmed by the wonderful Charles Pasternak as the director, had two weeks to rehearse and tech the show before it went up in front of audiences. But this was more than just a performance. Misty brought in panelists from around the world to discuss this play in 45-minute-long discussions with the audience following every performance. This led to discussions about what it meant that George Washington saw himself as this great liberator when he enslaved people. What it meant to have Black characters like Juba and Syphax, who were progressive in so many ways (Juba ends the play in an interracial relationship, and Syphax is so proud to be Black), knowing those characters were first played by white actors in blackface. What it means for this country to be reaching towards and uplifting these ideas of virtue and liberty, and to not yet have achieved those ideals. These very conversations and the power of theatre to create change that will continue long after the play has ended are why Angelique became an artist. And it was a privilege to be a part of telling this story and sharing in these conversations.