Dramatic oddity from Canada more stunt than tour de force

Maggie & Pierre Play by Linda Griffiths with Paul Thompson. Directed by Mr. Thompson. The Phoenix Theater has opened its 29th season with a dramatic oddity from Canada. "Maggie & Pierre," by Linda Griffiths (with Paul Thompson), concerns the May-September marriage of Margaret and Pierre Trudeau, the breakup of which shocked their fellow citizens and made international headlines. The new play at the Marymount Manhattan Theater deals with the political as well as marital problems of the charismatic Liberal Party leader and passingly contemplates and Canadian personality.

Although it aspires to an observer's detachment, "Marriage & Pierre" is quite clearly semidetached in Maggie's favor. To begin with, the headstrong object of the middle-aged prime minister's affections and trudeau himself are both played by Miss Griffiths. While her quick changes of costume, hairdo, and gender are adroitly managed, the performance is more of a stunt than a tour de force.

The ironic Canadian caper also contains a third character in the person of Henry (Eric Peterson), a parliamentary correspondent and persistent Trudeau-watcher.The journalist stereotype is sardonically portrayed by the sandy-haired Mr. Peterson, the justly acclaimed star of the rather more impressive Canadian import of the 1979-80 season, "Billy Bishop Geos to War."

For all of its projections of sensational headlines and its intrusions into the couple's publicized private liveS, "Maggie & Pierre" seeks to be something more than a living-newspapaer gossip column. Occasionally the attempt succeeds. the play strikes sparks as Henry berates Trudeau of getting Parliament to invoke the sweeping War Measures Act to combat separatist terrorism (including kidnapping and murder) in 1970. And ther is an effective montage of a dozen official functions as the unaccustomed Margaret plays diplomatic hostess (not always diplomatically).

The success and shock effect of "Maggie & Pierre" when presented by Toronto's Theater Passe Muraille is readily understandable. But for the spectator somewhat removed from recent Canadian history, the satirical piece proves neither very stimulating nor enlightening. At the Marymount Manhattan, it comes across as a rather forlorn and impressionistic account of how a formal, highly intellectual politician courts and marries a restless flower child of the '60s. When the constraints of the situation prove excessive, Maggie runs away to New York to boogie with the Rolling Stones.

The play might seem sharper as sociopolitical satire and more poignant as a study in disillusionment were it not so sympathetically attuned to the character Maggie's immaturity. The production, smoothly directed by Mr. Thompson, has been visually well served by John Kasarda's neatly all-purpose setting, Denise Romano's freauently unisex costumes, and Jim Plaxton's lighting.

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