Brooke Johnson brings rich emotion and theatrical savvy to Trudeau Stories.
TRUDEAU STORIES by Brooke Johnson, directed by Allyson McMackon (Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson). To December 6. 416-?504-?7529. Rating: NNNN
One of Canada's greatest leaders gets a human face in Trudeau Stories, a memoir of actor Brooke Johnson's relationship with our 15th prime minister.
Johnson met Trudeau in 1985 after his retirement from government; she was a second-year student at Montreal's National Theatre School and he a lawyer. But Trudeau was never out of the limelight, and Johnson's tale explores the nervousness she felt in public and private when with the man.
The relationship between the two, never fully explained (and possibly not fully explainable), is that of kindred spirits; though it's not sexual, it has the occasional moment of sensuality.
Presented in a longer and more leisurely fashion than in its SummerWorks 2007 premiere, Trudeau Stories now gives Johnson a greater chance to demonstrate her writing and performing skills. There are lots of strong, detailed moments in the show that conjure up rich visuals, including the gala dinner/dance where the two meet (Johnson has jammed her feet into too-large shoes stuffed with toilet paper) and the description of Trudeau's art-deco-filled house.
There's often a playful quality to their relationship, mined by Johnson in the touching moments of her tale as well as its irony and humour. Early on she contrasts the simultaneity of his world-important actions and her own girlhood discoveries; at another point, when Trudeau asks her out for a walk in the country, she mischievously responds, "Which country?"
Director Allyson McMackon brings out the physical aspects of the script, from the nervousness of the couple's first dance at the gala to their shared manic energy in a childlike slide down an icy Montreal street.
Best of all, Johnson, drawing on letters, diaries and memories, knows how to give a narrative as well as an emotional arc to her tale, keeping it intimate but never losing sight of its theatricality.