Backstage: "Strawberries in January"

09/10/09 5:30PM By Neal Charnoff
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Photo by Gordon McCall
Scene from "Strawberries in January"
(Host)  An award-winning Canadian play about searching for love in Montreal is being produced south of the border.

"Strawberries in January" offers Vermont theater-goers a new cultural perspective on romance.

VPR's Neal Charnoff takes us "Backstage" with this Champlain Theatre production. 

(Charnoff) "Strawberries in January" follows four romantically challenged Montrealers as they navigate relationships both platonic and romantic.

Francois is a screenwriter who is playing matchmaker with Sophie, a former housemate and lover, now a close friend.  Here, he and Sophie discuss an impending blind date. 

(Scene 1)  Okay we need to do this fast....

The blind date is with Robert, a university professor.  But Robert is staying at a bed and breakfast run by Sophie's childhood friend, Lea.  Here, Robert registers a complaint with Lea, but the encounter turns flirtatious.

(Scene 2) Miss, there was a dead mouse in my room.... when I went in to change your sheets. 

What follows is a series of coincidences, missed encounters and hidden identities, minus the frantic farce normally associated with romantic comedy.  

"Strawberries in January" was originally written in Quebec French by playwright Evelyn de la Cheneliere. 

For this English production, Champlain Theatre has enlisted Canadian Gordon McCall to direct.

McCall is the artistic director for Montreal's acclaimed Centaur Theater. 

He says that "Strawberries in January" gives American audiences a fresh take on the classic romantic comedy. 

McCall credits playwright Evelyn de la Cheneliere with breathing new life into the genre. 

(McCall) She has a particular perspective on what I would call a Quebecois romantic identity or personality that's very particular to Quebec, and yet we all recognize and so the relationships have a fresh appeal to me. 

McCall says the playwright has her ear to the contemporary 30-something generation of Quebec. 

(Song begins)

And he believes that as a Canadian, he can be an ambassador for the culture. 

(Song continues) 

French Quebecois pop music provides the play with Montreal ambiance.

And McCall says his own costume and stage design are part of the thematic mix.  A high gloss black platform is set off by red and strawberry pink, giving the set a contemporary abstract feel. 

(McCall)  And the music coupled with that and the lighting I think will take us to a world that is very theatrical and celebrating that theatricality, it's not trying to be kitchen sink realism.

Heather Nielsen of Burlington plays Lea.  She agrees that the play veers away from super-realism. 

(Nielsen) It's that sort of taking a little bit of artistic liberty with the fact that we're in an alternate reality, we're in someting that's not real, we go in and out of time, and so lets give the suggestion of that place and that prop we might need, and then let people use their imagination to finish it and flesh it out. 

Director Gordon McCall says that Strawberries in January has its own take on a universal theme. 

(McCall)  It's about maintaining hope at a time when people can feel a sense of aimlessness, and not knowing what's coming next in their life, and this is actually a very optimistic look at love being available, you just have to find it.

Actress Heather Nielsen says that although the play was originally written for a French-speaking audience, Vermonters will recognize themselves in the characters.  

(Nielsen) I think the idea of hopefulness and the idea of looking of love and the idea of being afraid of these big decisions and big commitments and big things in your life and looking for connection is going to resonate with everybody. 

For VPR Backstage, I'm Neal Charnoff. 

(Music ends, hear laughter)

(Host) "Strawberries In January" will be performed at Champlain College's Alumni Auditorium through September 19th




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