A new musical by Anton Dudley and Michael Cooper, Marguerite tells the inspiring true story of Marguerite Bourgeoys, Canada’s first female saint. On a mission to “uncloister” women in the Catholic Church, Marguerite helps found an open religious community in newly settled Montreal.
Working hand in hand with the city’s governor, Paul Chomedey de Maisonneuve, she battles the harsh realities of life on the Canadian frontier: mosquitoes, Indians, lusty soldiers, high child mortality rates, and prejudice against her foundling community (largely engendered by the cutthroat governor of nearby Quebec). Amid every tragedy, Marguerite retains her fearless optimism—never cowed as she shelters those in her care and seeks to build a church in Montreal.
Directed by Dev Bondarin, APAC’s production marks not only Marguerite’s New York premiere, but the first full production of a new musical by Astoria Performing Arts Center. Fittingly staged in Astoria’s Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, it's a smooth, delightful journey narrated by the saint herself, as performed by a luminous Cady Huffman.
Her bold voice ringing from the (historic) rafters, Huffman conveys Marguerite’s warmth, idealism, and daring: painting in bright, soaring strokes a portrait of the saint’s undaunted heroism in the face of every imaginable obstacle. A glittering, velvet score melds with the jewel-like surroundings of the church for an overall effect that becomes a graceful expression of one pioneering woman’s faith and devotion.
Yet for all that, I found myself wishing for more. More complexity, perhaps. Or maybe just more about Marguerite herself. Much of the story revolves around Maisonneuve, an important presence in Marguerite’s life and an intriguing historical character who at times steals the spotlight from her. It's almost as if this show about a female pioneer who empowered women is more concerned with the struggles of a man, albeit a heroic and tragic one.
As she narrates the events of her life, Marguerite immerses us in her world—complete with Indian ambushes, sweltering summers when women (shockingly) wear their skirts mid-thigh, fur fairs that become occasions for courting, a small community’s judgmental attitude toward a recluse. The world she presents is vivid and engaging.
But what fails to emerge from all this is a complete, rounded picture of the narrator herself. She’s a faithful nun, a brave pioneer. But the picture we get isn’t perhaps as compelling as it could be. We hear about the trials she faces but we rarely see her struggle. I’d like a stronger sense of her personality—of her craggy, unflinching soul as depicted in the striking portrait that features in one scene.
Then again, there’s something to be said for the richness of Marguerite’s world and the value of the things she accomplished. If she’s swallowed up in her surroundings, in the community she helped to build and came to love, maybe that’s only fitting. And that, in a one woman show, supporting characters steal into the spotlight is perhaps as good a testament as any to the power of Cady Huffman’s lovely performance.
Cady Huffman in New Solo Show Marguerite at Astoria Performing Arts Center November 8 – November 23, 2019