DES FRAISES EN JANVIER by Evelyne de la Chenelière, directed by Jean-Stéphane Roy (Théâtre Français de Toronto). At Berkeley Street Theatre (26 Berkeley). To February 24. $24-$46. 416-534-6604. Rating: NNN
The ever-popular subject of romance gets an unusual makeover in Evelyne de la Chenelière’s Des Fraises En Janvier (Strawberries In January).
I found it kind of charming to catch a surtitled performance on Valentine’s Day (there are others February 22 and 23) of the sometimes too cute play in which a pair of couples come together, then have problems and finally reunite.
Café worker François (Michel Séguin) thinks it’d be perfect to wed roommate Sophie (Patricia Marceau), because they know each other so well. François’s gotten chummy with Robert (Manuel Verreydt), a university prof who gets briefly involved with Léa (Djennie Laguerre) but wants no long-term commitment.
There are more ins and outs to the plot, Dickensian coincidences and lots of secrets and lies that aren’t revealed until the end. Its most striking point, though, is how it’s told; de la Chenelière structures the play as a series of stories alternately related and enacted. François fancies himself a film writer, and at some moments we’re not sure what’s reality and what’s part of his script.
Under director Jean-Stéphane Roy, the cast gives a lively reading of these knotty, overlapping relationships. The standout is Marceau, whose rubbery face and rapid-fire delivery mine the work’s comedy. She’s totally believable as a woman whose push-pull relationship with men parallels her trouble with remembering how to open the café door: she’s always doing the wrong thing.
Marceau’s performance works for non-francophones like me who have to keep resorting to the surtitles, drawn from Morwyn Brebner’s English translation. French speakers will get more from the light, fast-moving production, but anyone can appreciate Vikki Anderson’s fallen-snow-and-blue-sky set and its crinkled-paper backdrop, gorgeously lit by Glenn Davidson.