Funny, ironic, compassionate and entertaining is the Little Theatre Group’s latest production, “Strawberries in January,” an intertwined web spun around the adventures of four singletons looking for love.
Set in the Canadian city of Montreal, the play opens around Sophie (played by Sheila McCann Morrison) and François (Theodore Hope), two former college roommates looking for love, which may be right under their noses.
Sophie is a neurotic, practical, 28-year-old aching for a “dreamy, classy Italian guy” to sweep her off her feet. She sees François as “anti-romantic and tactless,” constantly crushing her guy interests of the moment.
François’s calmer, more thoughtful demeanor complements Sophie’s impatient, dramatic flair. The petty arguments that could flare up only between two former roommates elicit plenty of laughs.
Smooth, rapid, choreographed scene changes advance the play quickly, intertwining stories and alternating among all four characters,who know more about each other than they initially think.
Léa (Sally O’Boyle) comes to Montreal hoping to find her childhood playmate, Sophie.Her efforts seem futile as she comes to Montreal without an address. While searching, she opens an inn in the city and falls for a “handsome, melancholy, vagabond tourist” named Robert (Ron Boston), a college literature professor looking for love,while trying to hide a secret about his identity.
“When I’m asked to sum up ‘Strawberries in January,’ I never know where to begin. But what stays with me … is a feeling that happiness is often closer than we think and less complicated than we claim,” said playwright Evelyne de la Chenelière of her work (entitled “Des fraises en janvier” in the original French). “I’m also left with human frailty, our need to dream, our fear of not measuring up. Measuring up to what exactly? Measuring up to what we see in movies?”
It’s these questions that will likely have you critiquing yourself while laughing in your seat throughout the show. Lying about the past, living in a dream world and being overly critical are ways in which some of the characters cope with their lack of love and attempts to find the perfect mate.
The actors’ performances are heartfelt and entertaining. McCann Morrison’s boisterous, attention-grabbing performance is wonderfully complemented by Hope’s calmer, more subdued persona. O’Boyle is the perfect eternal optimist, warm and lighthearted. Boston’s performance doesn’t really stand out until a five-minute diatribe he delivers in the second half of the play that is simply electrifying.
“It’s more than just your typical romantic comedy,” director David King told The Tico Times during intermission at a recent Saturday evening performance.
King, a native of Canada, returns to the Blanche Brown Theatre in the western San José suburb of Bello Horizonte de Escazú after directing Eve Ensler’s “The Good Body” in 2005.With “Strawberries in January,” King said he saw a unique union of “English storytelling and French Canadian theatricality.”
“It’s a very visual play … with a film noir influence,” King said about the play’s questioning of morals and confusion about love.
The director designed the set’s backdrop –three walls decorated with Mondrian-esque geometric lines and colors – himself, as well as putting together a creative video montage that’s shown during intermission.
“I had a lot of fun doing this … it was my first time designing and that was exciting for me,” he said.
“King really brought the theater from the paper to the stage,” said former Radio Dos host Boston. “He’s by far the best director we’ve had.”
Running an hour and a half with a 15-minute intermission, the play is showing at the Blanche Brown Theatre through this weekend, tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. It will then move to the Eugene O’Neill Theater at the Costa Rican-North American Cultural Center in the eastern San José neighborhood of Barrio Dent April 20-22, with the same weekend showtimes.
For tickets and information, call 355-1623 or visit www.littletheatregroup.org.