'On the Rocks...stirred not shaken'
Conceived, written and performed by Louise Pitre
By David Rabjohn
For a number of days in September of 2013, Canada’s performing sensation Louise Pitre presented a one-person show detailing her personal journey through childhood, professional career and various relationships. This courageous, intimate performance was bolstered by her own original music. If you had the good fortune of being in the Theatre Passe Muraille on one of those nights, you have memories to last a lifetime. We can join some of that magic with an online viewing of one of those breathtaking evenings posted from May 28 to 31, 2021. The storyline and performance are magnificent, but the overall driving force is Ms. Pitre’s superb and luxurious voice.
The electrifying original music gives Ms. Pitre an opportunity to display her full range of vocal skills. She builds subtle moments as emotion grows and also knows the right timing for unleashing big thrilling notes. Her story is wide ranging, but it is clear that music is at the heart of her life and career.
“When I was Seven” is about her youth and dreams. She relies on few props, but she emotionally displays childhood memories saved by her mother such as some childhood paintings and her beloved Barbie doll (along with a host of outfits.) This offers more than just nostalgia – it gives her an opportunity to be self-deprecating, endearing herself even more with the audience. “Please Say My Name Out Loud” is a gut-wrenching reflection on her parents’ experience with Alzheimer’s.
The staging focuses, by design, on Ms. Pitre singularly. She wears a black tuxedo which emphasizes the tangled facial expressions and her hands, always moving, helping to orchestrate the stories. The stage is black, the piano is black, even the coffee cup is black. This drives us further inward to her joys and pains throughout the story. Near the end, she dispenses with the jacket to reveal balletic shoulders and youthful arms which accelerates the dramatic gestures. Her large sparkling eyes makes one believe she is seven. She moves, almost as a dancer, from side to side on the stage, moving through various stages of her narrative. Her face boldly relates the anguish, the joy, the fears, and the comforts of her journey.
That journey is indeed remarkable.
From a comfortable life in Montreal to the difficult adjustments in Ontario she builds a resilient character. Emotional difficulties with her father are intensified with various bad relationships with a list of men. You literally see her face relax as she explains the late but joyous meeting with her husband (and song writing partner, Joe.) She recounts her career through growing stages of venues – from the dowdy Leah Posluns Theatre to the gaudy Imperial Room and on to Massey Hall and eventually Broadway. She celebrates her great roles in ‘Les Miserables’ and ‘Mamma Mia’, but also reflects on the spasmodic life of reaching from one job to another.
Ms. Pitre suggests that she felt “vulnerable” in these performances. This is perhaps a leitmotif running through the show. Doomed marriages and personal agonies are fully vented, but they are balanced by humour expressed through Ms. Pitre’s sense of timing and some brilliant physical comedy. A highlight occurs when a rogue director offers a silly suggestion and Ms. Pitre slumps into a fine Charlie Chaplin imitation.
Vulnerability is lifted as she makes a surprise exit that would make any junior ASM blush. She concludes with the mantra “I am a person of extremes” and one of those most important extremes is her remarkable vocal talent which is the driving force of the show. This writer is humbled remembering her remark that the best review ever is from her mom. I yield to Ms. Pitre senior.
‘On the Rocks . . . stirred not shaken’ – conceived, written and performed by Louise Pitre
Piano accompaniment – Diane Leah
Director – Jen Shuber
Original Songs by Louise Pitre and W. Joseph Matheson
Musical Direction & Piano by Diane Leah
Dramaturgy: Jen Shuber
Set Design: Robin Fisher
Lighting Design: Lesley Wilkinson
Sound Design & Mixing: Emily Porter
Stage Manager: Dianne Woodrow
Technical Direction: Jacquie Lazar
May 28 -31, 2021. For tickets – http://louise-pitre-otr.eventbrite.ca
Photo of Louise Pitre by Michael Cooper @coopershoots