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Playwright and actor Linda Griffiths dies at 60

Linda_GriffithsLinda Griffiths, actor, playwright, and staunch advocate for Canadian theatre, succumbed to breast cancer in Toronto over the weekend. She was 60 years old.

Griffiths was best known for her 1980 one-woman play Maggie and Pierre, co-written with Paul Thompson. Griffiths played both title roles – former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and his wife, Maggie – as well as a third character, a reporter named Henry. The play garnered her two Dora Mavor Moore awards, one as playwright and one as actor.

J. Kelly Nestruck, theatre critic for The Globe and Mail, quotes fellow playwright Daniel MacIvor as saying that Griffiths “believed in theatre as a way of life – a religion, I guess.”

So strongly did she believe in theatre – Canadian theatre, that is – that she rejected the opportunity to relocate stateside after appearing in John Sayles’ independent film Lianna. Her decision to return to the country of her birth was a mark of her thoroughgoing cultural nationalism, MacIvor tells the Globe: “She was a patriot.”

Her play Age of Arousal, which won the 2007 Betty Mitchell Award for Best New Play, was published by Coach House Books. “Linda Griffiths was a tremendously important force in Canadian theatre,” says publisher Alana Wilcox. “Coach House is very saddened at her loss, which came far too early, and we lament that there won’t be any new plays by her.”

Writing in the Toronto Star, theatre critic Richard Ouzounian calls Griffiths one of the “vital voices” of Canadian theatre.

Ouzounian quotes a 2007 interview Griffiths did with the Star: “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.”

Update: Annie Gibson, publisher of Playwrights Canada Press, has provided Q&Q with the following statement regarding Griffiths’ passing: “We at Playwright Canada Press are saddened by the death of Linda Griffiths, a passionate and fearless artist. On stage she fully embodied the characters she crafted, and delivered such rich performances. As a writer her work could be both subtle and brash, and it was always a pleasure to dive into one of her new plays. This is a loss for the theatre community, and Linda will be missed.”

Note: A memorial for Griffiths will be held at Theatre Passe Muraille on Sept. 29 at 7:30 p.m.