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Photo by R. Kelly Clipperton, courtesy of the GCTC.

Theatre review: Trudeau Stories is an intimate portrait of Trudeau Sr.

By Courtney Merchand on January 16, 2017

Photo by R. Kelly Clipperton, courtesy of the GCTC.

Photo by R. Kelly Clipperton, courtesy of the GCTC.

Brooke Johnson’s one-woman play, Trudeau Stories, on now at the Great Canadian Theatre Company is a timely tribute to the revitalization of “Trudeaumania” that swept the nation in 1968.

This tale of an unlikely friendship tells the story of former prime minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, pieced together from memory and a collection of journal entries, letters, and recorded voicemails.

It’s just as the title suggests, a chronicle of stories.

Starting from the very beginning, Johnson recounts how, with a borrowed dress and toilet paper lodged into the toes of her pumps, she met Trudeau in the latter part of the 1980s during her theatre school’s gala in Montreal. He spotted her from across the hall, and with smooth persistence, he finally dragged her out onto the dancefloor where she endearingly fumbled her way into his heart.

It was no surprise that women loved Trudeau: his reputation preceded him and Johnson certainly would have fit the bill. However, this was not a story of taboo love or furtive passion. Johnson puts your curiosity to rest early on with a letter she had delivered to him stating her platonic feelings. Trudeau Stories doesn’t attempt to blur the lines between romance and friendship.

Photo by R. Kelly Clipperton, courtesy of the GCTC.

Photo by R. Kelly Clipperton, courtesy of the GCTC.

One anecdote bleeds into the next, creating the illusion that no time has truly passed until the performance culminates with his passing in 2000.

In all its verbatim simplicity, Johnson’s play sheds light on a more intimate version of Canada’s 15th prime minister. Layer after layer, we get a glimpse of the man that was so fiercely loved and so fiercely hated nationwide.

Set to a narrator’s modest backdrop of a wing-backed chair, rug and wicker basket, there is nothing to distract the audience’s wandering eye: all attention is on Johnson as she glides whimsically across the stage in her stocking feet. With an incredible team behind her, every song, every lighting cue, and every movement is articulately timed to make the entire production as effortless as possible.

Johnson’s performance was grounded in pure, authentic emotion. Occasionally the glazed look of reliving a memory teased at the corners of her eyes. As much as the play was for the audience, it felt very much like a cathartic means of release – a tribute – to Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

Personal biases aside, many Canadians can recall their own Trudeau memories. Whether it was watching him on TV as he addressed the nation or reading about his politics in the paper. Trudeau Stories will leave you just as curious as ever about the former prime minister with a desire to know more.

Trudeau Stories runs until January 29th at the Great Canadian Theatre Company. Tickets are available online, by phone at 613-236-5196, or from the GCTC Box Office at 1233 Wellington Street West, at the corner of Holland Avenue.