One of the most vital voices in Canadian Theatre has been sadly silenced.
Linda Griffiths, who shot to international acclaim with her 1980 hit, Maggie and Pierre, died on Sunday in a Toronto hospital after a lengthy battle with breast cancer. She was 60.
The Montreal-born Griffiths graduated from Dawson College, then spent a year at McGill, where she earned a teaching certificate, and a year at the National Theatre School, after which she was asked to leave.
She didn’t let that discourage her because, as she told The Star in a 2007 interview, “Sometimes I say to myself, ‘This is no way to spend your life. Then the lights go down and something rises up in me and I feel like a fool, but it’s love. It’s not always a healthy relationship, but it’s from deep inside whatever viscera I have and I can’t fight it.”
Griffiths went on to Saskatoon, where she was a founding member of the 25th Street Theatre and one of the creators of its seminal work, Paper Wheat in 1978.
But it was Maggie and Pierre that made Griffiths famous. A one-woman show in which she played the Prime Minister, his wife and an inquiring reporter began at the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, toured Canada and finally wound up in New York.
The actor/playwright dynamic suited Griffiths well in this particular piece and as she observed “Paul Thompson (founder of Passe Muraille) once told me that ‘Sometimes the actor knows things that the writer doesn’t.’”
Her success in Maggie and Pierre led to American film-maker John Sayles casting her in the leading role of his film Liana, for which she won the A.G.A. Award in Los Angeles, but she returned to Canada, where, over the following decades, she wrote a varied assortment of plays
Works like Jessica, The Duchess, Alien Creature, Age of Arousal and The Darling Family all made their mark on Canadian theatre and won her numerous awards nationwide.
In her later years, she felt a certain nostalgia for the alternative theatre movement she had come from, telling The Star, “It’s much harder to have the same effect on an audience now. It mainly seems to happen in niche situations where you play a week in this city, a few days in another and piece together a public for your work that way.”
She continued until the end, performing in her sequel to The Darling Family, called Heaven Above, Heaven Below in Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille last season.
And she remained a kind of prophet, seeing the future of Canadian theatre
“I’m getting this feeling again of bursting out of confines, a desire to look for more truly theatrical work. We need less minimalism these days. It’s time for maximalism again.”