Strawberries in January is not about saying the right words at the right moment to the right person. Rather, it’s about pulling on doors meant to be pushed, regretting things left unsaid, doctoring real life to conform a little bit better to our dreams and eventually accepting that just maybe things happen exactly as they should.
Written by Montreal-based playwright Evelyne de la Cheneliere, translated by Morwyn Brebner and directed by Gordon McCall, Strawberries in January takes place in present-day Montreal and features a number of familiar faces from Saskatoon making their main stage debut at Persephone theatre.
The play follows a quirky love story involving four Montreal singles. Francois (Jaron Fancis), a strapping barista who spends his days writing screenplays involving the people in his life, is in equal parts love and denial with his roommate and ex-fiancee Sophie (Anna Seibel). Hopeful, cheerful and completely relatable Sophie is fixated on looking for the perfect man; if he happens to be handsome and able to speak fluent Italian, all the better.
Lea (Kristina Hughes), Sophie’s estranged childhood friend, is a quirky woman making the best out of a somewhat bleak situation after falling in love and ending up pregnant by a mystery man who had briefly stayed at her country inn. French literature professor Robert (James O’Shea) is both eccentric and endearing, like all the best professors.
The one-act play mixes fantasy — taken from Francois’ idealized screenplay version of how he wished things would have happened — and real circumstances both past and present. These events fall out of order, which is a bit confusing to begin with. But by the second half of the hour-and-a-half production, the sequence of events come together to form a somewhat cohesive storyline.
With the exception of the chronologically-challenged narrative, the play is likable in its simplicity. The set requires very little change and is accessorized minimally by the multi-purposed props that moved around to create different cozy scenes. Predominantly French to fit the setting, the music is usually upbeat and reflects the optimistic atmosphere of the production.
The high points of the play are the monologues delivered by each of the male characters. In one instance Francois speaks of the things he hates about Sophie, only to transition into how he loves the way she blows her nose — among other little details that he claims drive him crazy.
Francois’ humourous speech is second only to the brilliant lecture delivered by Robert on his infuriatingly lazy students — I believe he used the term “little idiots” — and the equally frustrating inefficiency of the university as anything other than a money sucking institution (but far more eloquently put and convincingly delivered).
Special mention must be given to the lighting team during Robert’s monologue, as the audience can’t help but be drawn into the passionate address when the lights came on over their heads — as if the crowd gathered suddenly becomes Robert’s miscreant students.
Charming, guaranteed to put a smile on your face and oh-so-sweet, Strawberries in January is about the relationships between its characters and is presented in a way that highlights the humour and romance inherent in the script. Have a taste, you won’t regret trying it.
Running until Feb. 9 at Persephone Theatre, tickets to Strawberries in January are available at the door or online at persephonetheatre.org.