Margaret Trudeau takes the stage
Margaret Trudeau, the ex-wife of one Canadian prime minister and the mother of another, has lived much of her life in a fishbowl. At one time, everything from her love life (purported flings with Ted Kennedy, Jack Nicholson and a Rolling Stone) to the hemline of her dresses (too short for the White House, apparently) was fodder for the tabloids and a Canada thirsty for celebrities.
Now 70, she’s inviting the attention that once tormented her. The mother of Canada’s current prime minister, Justin Trudeau, and the former wife of his late father, Pierre, she’s took her soul-baring, onewoman autobiographical show to Montreal on Thursday for its Canadian premiere. In Certain Woman of an Age, Trudeau discusses her marriages and divorces, personal tragedy – the 1998 death of son Michel – and her subsequent diagnosis with bipolar disorder and advocacy for mental health.
But is it the right moment to tell all? The show debuts less than three months before Canada’s federal election, as her son, whose Liberal Party trails in some polls, fights for his political life.
Did she consider postponing, or toning the act down? She laughs.
“Are you kidding me?” she said in a phone interview from Montreal. “I’m so proud of Justin being the prime minister. But I’ve been there, done that. I don’t think anybody who is in his office would dare to call mama Margaret and tell her what she can or cannot do.”
Justin Trudeau has seen the show, in Chicago, where it debuted in May.
“He thought her performance was great,” said Eleanore Catenaro, his spokeswoman.
Certain Woman of an Age has been well reviewed. The Chicago Tribune called it “gripping, charming and intensely courageous.” The conservative National Post, often critical of her son, praised Trudeau for “making moments of a lifetime of celebrity relatable to many in the crowd.” Maclean’s magazine noted that the audience “seemed to thoroughly enjoy” itself.
Now comes a brief run at the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal, where Trudeau now lives.
She was approached about doing an autobiographical show a year and a half ago.
“While my life has looked so glamorous and fun, and I can name drop all kinds of people who have been on my path along the way, essentially, it’s a play about facing your own fears and overcoming the stigma of mental illness,” she said. “I’m kind of a bit of a dire warning.”
In Canada, to be the partner of the prime minister is to assume a staid and somewhat ambiguous role. Unlike first ladies in the United States, they do not have official titles, formal responsibilities or large staffs. Many fly under the radar.
“Maggie,” as the press liked to call her, was an exception.
The daughter of a cabinet minister, she was 19 when she first met the debonair Pierre Elliott Trudeau – 29 years her senior – while vacationing in Tahiti with her parents.
She admired his “perfectly toned” legs, she wrote in Changing My Mind, her 2010 memoir, but her first thought was “that he was old, with old skin and old toes.”