“Just Watch Me”

Writers Read Welcomes Celebrated Canadian Playwright Linda Griffiths

Graphic David Barlow-Krelina

Heralded for the “sheer range of her career” by Maclean’s magazine almost 20 years ago, Canadian playwright Linda Griffiths says finding the time and the energy to attend live theatre nowadays is hard work—a fatigue that’s common to anyone who’s been working in the profession for three decades or more, she claims.

But if the average person doesn’t attend more than one show a year—let alone a lifetime—Griffiths says that the power of the theatre exceeds the number of actual bums in seats.

“Sometimes it’s like you go to a party and there are only 20 people there, but it seems like everyone experienced it and is talking about it afterwards. Theatre is like that,” she said.

“I believe it to be a very high art, because there’s many things going on at the same time. It’s a three-dimensional living form. I’m one of those people that always thinks ‘I should have gotten into film,’ and I always think I should have done prose, but really, I am a theatre animal, and while I do other things, theatre is always where the pulse, the gut-to-gut connection is.”

Although Maggie & Pierre, a solo performance in which Griffiths played both former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau and his wife Margaret, is what got her the greatest attention of her career, Griffiths continues to challenge herself.

Her most recent work, The Last Dog of War, is a retelling of a trip she took with her father to the last gathering of the Royal Air Force 49th Squadron Bomber Command in London, with which her father served in World War II.

Griffiths developed the play by “bits and pieces” over a period of four years with dramaturge Daniel MacIvor, a Canadian theatre icon.

“We actually sort of got kicked out of [my father’s] last reunion,” she recalls of the visit across the pond. “The show is very much me telling that story, which involves a relationship with my father and a relationship with war, and then a relationship with England as well. It’s very, very simple, but to get that simplicity has taken four years.”

As much as her stories are typified by the intersection between sex and politics, the crossroads of magic and spirituality, according to Griffiths, play a much larger part.

“You could call it magic realism,” said Griffiths, “for lack of a better word, but I think all of my plays have this reach to another dimension.”

In Alien Creature: A Visitation from Gwendolyn MacEwen, for example, Griffiths portrayed the eponymous poet who died under suspicious circumstances at age 46 as she returns to the modern world, all the while performing sleights of hand and conjuring up puffs of smoke.

“I did those things constantly through the show, and so that was an obvious allusion to magic, but also to the poet as magician.”

On Jan. 14, Griffiths will visit Concordia’s De Sève Cinema, where she will perform selections from some of her many works.

“They bring with them a lot of baggage,” she said of past plays, but particularly of Maggie & Pierre. “I was on tour for two years with that play, by myself, playing huge venues. It nearly killed me.”

But it’s a risk she’s willing to take for the theatre.

Linda Griffiths will do a public reading and performance open to the public on Jan. 14 at 7:30 p.m. in the De Sève Cinema (1400 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.), and a master class in LB-646 from 10:00-12:00 a.m. exclusively for creative writing students. For more details, visit writersread.concordia.ca

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 18, published January 11, 2011.