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Maggie and Pierre

Long before Charles, Di and Camilla, or Bill, Hillary and a certain Ms. Flowers, Canada had a royal scandal of sorts in Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his wife, Margaret, a flower girl of a different kind who rejected her life as first lady and ran away with the Rolling Stones. "Maggie and Pierre," a local hit in 1980 that traveled to Off Broadway the following year, is now back in the theater where it began, and the result is a '90s version that has aged and been restaged beautifully. Trudeau captured the Canadian imagination with a vengeance, his early public appearances in the late '60s equaling a rock star's in autograph seekers, shrieking young women and the adulation of the general populace: His was a story that imprinted itself on a national psyche more used to boredom than provocation among its leaders.

It was the quintessential ’60s story, too, playing out a tug of war between the idea of struggling for change within the system and the drug-and-dropout counterculture. He was the older, suave radical who was, in the end, co-opted by the system he wanted to change; she was the 19-year-old proponent of easy sex, easy drugs and communal living, who fled from what she couldn’t affect. Together, their May-September marriage made headlines around the world, and inspired a young Linda Griffiths and Paul Thompson to write this play.

Somewhat surprisingly, watching the one-woman, three-character show 30 years after Trudeaumania swept Canada is still a rewarding experience. In part that’s because the show is now reflective rather than topical, and in part because Griffiths has matured as an artist; this deceptively lighthearted piece has a fresh understanding not only of those turbulent and exciting years, but also of a man who both captivated and repulsed his nation as no one had before, or has since.

She is the woman who offended everyone, he’s the leader who doesn’t know “whether I say these things because I believe them, or because I like bugging people.” Either way, it is the dichotomy between the public and private personas, as seen by the play’s third character, a reporter named Henry, that provides the pivot upon which the contradictions turn and the humor rests.

The play’s biggest achievement may well be that it treats its emotional history with respect. In the second act, Henry asks, “What can you offer a world with amnesia?” Well, it seems you can offer a slice of memory, analyzed and packaged in a compelling performance by Griffiths. Myles Warren’s newly designed set of marble stairs and red walls provides a variety of playing levels that Griffiths explores with a surety that is never false or facile, and always engaging.

Maggie and Pierre

Toronto

Production: A Theatre Passe Muraille presentation of a play in two acts written and performed by Linda Griffiths, in collaboration with Paul Thompson. Directed by Thompson. Set and costumes, Myles Warren

Creative: Lighting, Jim Plaxton; sound, Al Highes. Opened, reviewed March 6, 1997, at Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace; 210 seats; C$25 ($18) top. Running time: 2 HOURS, 10 MIN.

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