By Mark Augustine
A friend of mine said a while back that theatre in this country was at a standstill because everything seemed to be about identity politics. “Who are we?” “What does it mean to be Canadian?” Thankfully, Brooke Johnson doesn’t go anywhere near that.
Turdeau Stories, currently playing at Theatre Passe Muraille, gives you something very personal and delightfully offbeat that is still uniquely Canadian. In a little over an hour Johnson takes the audience down a path that shows us a side of our PM that few of us knew. It is a personal tribute to a privately shy and simple man with simple pleasures of life who, like any of us, sought the comforts of true friendship. The difference is, this man was Pierre Eliot Trudeau.
Trudeau Stories was not at all what I expected. The title gave me the impression that this show would be an ensemble cast with a series of vignettes all about the man who once famously said that the state had no place in the bedrooms of the nation. I had no idea that this was a one-woman show and that it was really only one story – the story of Brooke and Pierre. Don’t get me wrong; I loved it! By the end of the show I felt that I knew more about Trudeau than was possible. (The first PM I can recall from childhood is… ahem… Mulroney.)
My compatriot and I agreed that we were not huge fans of one-person shows. These often come across as irritatingly self-involved and career-advancing – “Look Ma, I did a one man show in Toronto. That’s REALLY off-broadway!” Yet Brooke Johnson, again, seems to leap that pitfall.
Her story is not self-aggrandising. Her play is not really even a one-woman show. As she glides her way across the stage, Johnson switches personas, at once herself, then becoming Trudeau, and then herself, and then back again. My friend was amazed at how well Johnson brought forth the spirit of Trudeau through her voice. I, on the other hand, snickered my way through a personal account of the bumblings of a young woman who, by chance, met and became friends with our prime minister. By the end though, all I could think was “Would I have done any better if I had been in her shoes?”
The great thing about this show was what it did for my friend and I afterwards. By the time we reached a café on Queen St. (it just seemed poor form to use the bar upstairs at Passe Muraille to critique the show) our conversation had already been ignited. My friend, who is in his late forties, was suddenly taken back to Trudeau’s heyday while I, in my early thirties, could only talk about the legacy and the legend. We sat for a couple of hours feverishly talking about the FLQ crisis, Trudeau’s friendship with Castro, dalliances with countless women, and the politics of this man who galvanized dinner table conversation right up until his death. And as I write these words, I laugh and realize that he is still doing it.
I can’t really recommend going to this show – alone that is! By the time it was over I was busting to get a coffee and talk about it, debate what we had seen and negotiate that with what we already knew of Pierre. In the end Brooke Johnson had renewed my faith in Canadian theatre. Her show never asked rhetorical questions; instead I sat and enjoyed a good story I hadn’t heard before which just happened to be Canadian.
– Trudeau Stories plays at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson) until December 6
– Show runs Tuesday-Friday at 7pm, Saturday at 2:30pm & 7pm
– Ticket prices range from $30 – $35, with PWYC for the Saturday Matinee.
– Tickets are available from the box office at 416-504-7529 or online
Photo of Brooke Johnson by Kelly Clipperton.