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Cassel Miles delivers stunning performance in one-man show

September 16, 2021   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

When the tale begins with a brutal whipping, shocking and realistic, but with only one person on the stage, your attention is gripped and does not waiver for the entire performance. Only four performances of “Josiah” are left of this live theatre, on now, until the last matinee, Sunday, September 19, at the Mount Alverno Resort on Heart Lake Road. Josiah is being streamed now as well, as of Wednesday (yesterday).

The intensity of the story and the acting remains high and the star and sole performer, Cassel Miles maintains that pressure, keeping the audience emotionally close to him. Not an easy task, given that the venue is a very large event tent with three sides walled, social distancing carefully respected. Yet, our hearts and minds stay with him, as he delivers the horrors and love his character, Josiah, experiences throughout the show.

Born in 1789 as a Black male, Josiah Henson weathered the abuse and degradation of being a slave in the southern United States all his early life and later, knew the worst of his white masters, who also cheated and betrayed him while they praised him for his hard work and loyalty.

Stretched at last to his limit of enduring the hardships his masters imposed on him, his family and all his friends, Josiah takes his wife and children and they run away. It is common knowledge that they succeed in their bid for freedom but the joy of attending the play is to witness how it happens and to watch Cassel Miles’ portrayal of the bravery and determination to reach that success.

Few men and women oppressed by slavery and the wholesale cruelty of the people to whom they were sold, survived their lives in strong spirits but it is Josiah’s indefatigable intelligence and incomprehensible buoyancy of spirit that makes him the astonishing character that he is. Mr. Miles’ equal determination to make himself and Josiah as one for the sake of his acting the part, has excelled in the truth of what we see on stage. Especially as he has the distraction, in addition, of more than 30 other characters to emulate in the course of the play as a one man show, his continuity to Josiah is remarkable.

What more is surprising and very interesting is the language in which Josiah, an illiterate slave, expresses himself. As a child of five, he meets another boy with a book who offers to teach him to read. Excited by a notion he had never heard of before but knowing somehow there could be problems, young Josiah gets himself a book and hides it, intending to return to the boy for a lesson. However, his master discovers the book before that first lesson and beats Josiah roundly – and worse. 

Yet, his spoken language is at times almost poetic and always polished. His speech flows like a dream, articulate and fine. To discover the reason for this, we had the chance to speak to Charles Robertson, playwright and director of Josiah, at the end of the opening night performance.

He told us that he wrote Josiah’s dialogue as it was, learning all he needed in Josiah Henson’s autobiography, which he dictated when he was living in Canada and which was first published in 1849.

It all began between them when Cassel Miles and Charles Robertson met in Kingston, that the passion Mr. Miles had developed for the story, intelligence and bravery of Josiah Henson, prompted him to pass the vast information he had collected about Josiah to Mr. Robertson.

Not many weeks later, Charles Robertson came back with a draft manuscript, a play starring one man alone on the stage, to cover the whole tale. The challenge was set and accepted. What followed was months of developing the play and Mr. Miles’ eagerness to work with it. 

During our interview with Cassel Miles the week before the show opened, he told the Citizen about learning to handle the quick character changes: many voices and diverse body language: “Charles taught me how to act, how to do this.” 

But Mr. Miles’ many other talents were the additional reasons this play works so well, as Charles Robertson explained why he knew Cassel could succeed, “He could dance and sing and move around so beautifully. And he had such a strong passion for the story. With the acting experience he already had, I knew he was the right person to play Josiah.”

Indeed, the tap dancing, singing and poetic movement do add to the saga like good punctuation to fine prose, enriching and focussing the dialogue. Very clever, beautifully integrated.

About the venue: for the opening night performance, there was both a little rain and wind: the tent kept us dry from the rain and the walls kept the wind from bothering us. It was cool and, while the Resort and Theatre Orangeville provide blankets, it is recommended that you bring a jacket or a sweater. None of the weather slowed the action on the stage for a second.

A member of the audience commented that this was not what she anticipated and she was right: don’t anticipate – just catch one of the last four performances and be blown away: Thursday (tonight) through Saturday evening shows at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday’s matinee at 2:00 p.m.

Also, please note that Josiah began streaming on Wednesday and you can see it with your friends and family, enjoying the popcorn in your own home, exactly as before.

For all the details and to buy tickets, go to or chat to the nice people at the Box Office: 519-942-3423

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