Tap into Trudeau with Trudeau Stories

Photo credits:  Kelly Clipperton

The year was 1985, she, a second-year theatre school student at the National Theatre School in Montreal and he, Canada’s 15th charismatic, charming Prime Minister. They meet at a gala fundraiser, share a dance and begin an improbable friendship that lasted 15 years.

The play is Trudeau Stories and it is currently playing at the GCTC. Brooke Johnson, the student in question, the playwright and star of the show (now in her mid-fifties) has brilliantly written a beautiful and very touching piece of theatre about a relationship between an older, accomplished, famous man and a younger, vibrant woman on the cusp of life.

As she narrates the story, she re-enacts scenes from her past and conversations and times she shared with Trudeau as they met for coffee, cognac, poetry conversations, discussion and companionship. While they were platonic, we are shown how there was a clear bond between the two of them that transcended age, circumstance and geography (they stayed friends after she moved to Toronto). Sometimes funny, (in fact the play is infused with humbling humour throughout), sometimes sad and other times serious, it is moving from beginning to end. While Johnson focuses on that very unlikely friendship that grows between them, and with it a palpable affection, there is a lot more to the play.  Many will focus on the “Trudeau factor,” and the fact that the play offers an unusual glimpse at the man behind the myth and all his layers of complexity , there is a lot more to it as Johnson shares the psychology of a young woman growing up.

We also see the development of a young, awkward woman who put toilet paper into large shoes to make them fit, into the accomplished actor and playwright she has become.  Johnson very beautifully delves into the fears, insecurities and worries of her younger self, all natural of course for a young woman stumbling around trying to find her way through life.  Those struggles are moving and heightened by the fact that her companion is who he is.

We also get to walk back in time through some of Canadian history like the Meech Lake Accord, Brian Mulroney era, and as she talks about people from the past, images of events and personalities of the 1980s and 1990s are conjured up. We too realize that time marches on.

As she recounts the day of his funeral and how she mourned, the distance between their life experiences is painfully exposed, again highlighting just how extraordinary their relationship was.  Always watching from the sidelines, never fully part of his life, she watches as the political elite enter the church, with her watching from the curb.  Instead, she goes to the scuzzy bar that she and he had visited 15 years earlier to say goodbye to her dear friend.

The play touchingly ends with actual messages he left on her answering machine. It is enough to bring tears to anyone’s eyes.  And it does.

Trudeau Stories run until January 29th at the GCTC.  www.gctc.ca