Review: "Maggie & Pierre" at Tarragon Theatre

Joe Szekeres

  • Chief Toronto Theatre Critic

Kaitlyn Riordan sparkles in this fascinating production of Maggie & Pierre

In this one woman show, Kaitlyn Riordan plays Henry, a reporter who investigates the global fascination around one of Canada’s most iconic prime ministers and his flower child wife.  She then segues fluidly and naturally between two radically challenging performances as a bombastic and pompous Pierre Elliott Trudeau and his insecure and, at times, unstable wife, Margaret Sinclair.

I never saw Maggie & Pierre with Linda Griffiths when It premiered in Toronto years ago. I did not want to miss this opportunity again.

The Opening Night Production

I had no knowledge of the performance spaces at Tarragon Theatre.  This opening night was held in the Workspace, an intimate studio setting environment on the second floor of the building. All fifty seats offered an excellent vantage point and view. I love hearing the anticipatory buzz of excitement before a performance begins and there was most certainly one here.

There were four playing spaces in this theatre in the round seating. One space contained a floral reclining chaise/lounge. A second contained a rolling liquor cabinet cart. A third contained a stylised chair and floral ottoman with a mink stole draped over it. Macleans magazines could be found on the side table.  The fourth playing space contained boxes with various props, paper etc.

I smiled at some of the pre-show music of The Rolling Stones and wondered how it would be connected later.

There was a myriad of scene changes designated solely by a dimming of the lights and a bit of historical news casts we could hear. Ms. Riordan might perhaps adjust her blouse, fix her hair or reach for a prop to begin the next scene. It was a smart move not to go to a complete blackout at each change as that would have both jarring and grown tiresome.

 Kaitlyn Riordan in Maggie & Pierre. Photo by Greg Wong

Kaitlyn Riordan in Maggie & Pierre. Photo by Greg Wong

Kaitlyn Riordan is an exceptionally skilled raconteur of the highest degree. I used the word ‘sparkle’ for an actor in a recent community theatre review, and I must use it again. Ms. Riordan sparkles in this fascinating and entertaining one woman show.

Dressed in white blouse and black slacks, comfortable shoes and periodically donning a fedora hat, Ms. Riordan delivered knock out, stop the traffic monologues with astonishing aplomb. I was riveted from the moment the lights came down and up in both acts. Here is an electrifying performer who took me on a journey through a tumultuous time of the sixties and seventies in Canada. I was captivated and willingly allowed myself to be swept away by the dramatization of the secrets, the glamour, the glitz, the back-door dealings, the anger, the pain, and the yelling.

It’s obvious much of the show has been purposely staged for dramatic effect and none of us will ever know the private conversations that would have taken place between Margaret and Pierre.  And there are memorable moments in this production. The word play on Pierre’s ‘Just watch me’ brought much needed laughter to the audience. Riordan’s Pierre Trudeau during Trudeaumania is aptly stuffy and hilariously condescending especially in the moment when the prime minister is recognized as being so little in height. Maggie’s dalliance with the Rolling Stones brought a smile to my face as I can recall that time hearing about this on the news.

When Maggie’s eventual emotional breakdown occurs in her marriage, Ms. Riordan engaged me completely.  Her performance is tightly controlled and neither borders nor ventures over that fine line to pathos. If anything, Ms. Riordan made me feel extreme compassion for Margaret as it was obvious she was unprepared to assume her role on the world stage as the wife of a charming prime minister.

In a one woman show, the onus is on the performer to carry the entire show on her shoulders. But this wasn’t the case here. At her curtain call, Ms. Riordan acknowledged her lighting and sound crew and selflessly reached out to her director, Rob Kempson, who would have worked with her closely during the rehearsal process.  What a class act indeed!

Final Comments

Timeshare, the production company of Maggie & Pierre, calls the work they perform discovery and the creation of opportunity. Director Rob Kempson and Kaitlyn Riordan allowed me an opportunity to discover and want to learn more about these two very real, stubborn and controversial individuals. Good theatre makes us want to pay attention and to learn more.

An enjoyably stellar evening of live theatre.  I urge you to see Maggie & Pierre.

Performances of Maggie & Pierre continue at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre Workspace, 30 Bridgman Avenue. Performance dates are 8 pm on May 11, 12, 16, 17, 18 and 19. Matinee performances will take place at 2:30 pm on May 12, 12 and 19. Contact the box office at (416) 531-1827 or visit Tarragontheatre.com for further information.

Photo of Ms. Riordan as Pierre Trudeau by Greg Wong.

Running Time: 90 minutes with one intermission.

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