by Evelyne de la Chenelière, trans. Morwyn Brebner.
Touchstone Theatre at Vancouver East Cultural Centre
$22/$18 plus sc
When a play is described as whimsical, offbeat, quirky, charming,
an out-of-season treat--do alarm bells go off? Does Strawberries
in January try too hard to be an unconventional comedy,
or is it genuinely different from the rest, an off-kilter ménage
It's from Quebec, after all, which doesn't guarantee theatrical
success but at least offers Vancouverites cultural différance of the je
ne sais quoi variety.
Nerdy Francois works in a Montreal coffee shop and writes screenplays.
He's in love with his roommate Sophie, who prefers older, more
exotic guys. Francois shares his desires and frustrations with
Robert, a somewhat down-at-heels French lit professor who likes
younger women and has an affair with Léa, an innkeeper in the
country, who just happens to be Sophie's oldest friend. Eventually,
Robert and Sophie start dating and Léa turns up at Francois' bistro.
Francois the screenwriter obviously fictionalizes some of the play's
events so that we're never quite sure whether what we're seeing
is "real" or a scene from one of the movies in Francois'
There's nothing terribly original about Evelyne de la Chenelière's
script, but it is witty and gentle, and Katrina's Dunn's Touchstone
production also finds its whimsy and charm. Much of the success
is due to the wonderful work of Haig Sutherland as Francois, around
whom the action swirls. As the lovable loser whose decency, intelligence
and sheer persistence inevitably win the day in romantic comedy,
Sutherland never strikes a false note. Katey Wright's Léa is almost
equally adorable, though her character is the most problematic,
stuck for most of the play outside the main action, struggling
as a single mother with a baby that we never see. Dawn Petten,
who pretty much owns the quirky young female roles around here
these days, is often very funny as Sophie. But she seems sometimes
to bring the exaggerated, overly demonstrative acting style which
Sophie exhibits in many of Francois' "movie" scenes to
her "real" scenes, which is particularly jarring in juxtaposition
to Sutherland's consistently naturalistic style.
Morwyn Brebner's absolutely idiomatic English translation is one
of the most successful renderings of the québecois
that I have ever heard on stage. The only thing that doesn't translate
Adams' portrayal of Robert. His affected east-of-mid-Atlantic
accent makes no sense for the first half of the play until it's
revealed that he's from France. But even then I felt he was playing
affectation more than character, especially when he and the playwright
deliver university professor stereotypes that are decades out of
Yvan Morissette's attractive set design features one of the only
revolves I've ever seen in the Cultch along with an unusually blatant
theatrical instance of product placement in the prominent branding
of corporate sponsor Bean Around the World. Director Dunn effectively
utilizes the revolve along with Hannu Huuskonen's dramatic music
and Alan Brodie's fluid lighting to keep the narrative dynamic.
She helps maintain the fine line between fantasy and reality through
devices such as a running mime gag to open and close the café door, and a lovely Robert Lepage-like transition in which the café becomes a laundromat by virtue of clothes falling from the flies
and a stool opening to become a laundry basket. At such moments,
with all its elements working effectively together, this strawberry
is very sweet.