You know what? I don’t give a damn if it IS arctic outside, the snow is falling, the testicles are freezing, whatever. I’m in a good mood. I’ve got my class going on again, I just got my first ever comp ticket for a show (I don’t know if I’m gonna use it…I think I’d feel bad not paying. But it’s still awesome to get one!), and there’s some sweet blasted theatre finally shaking off the winter blahs and getting under way. And you know yours truly was there to greet it!
Actually, it looks like I’m going to be pretty freaking busy with shows for the next few weeks, which is a great problem to have, but it also means I can’t slack off too much on these postings or I’ll get logjammed but good. So with that spirit of desperate industriousness urging me on, let’s get right to it. And you can’t accuse me of not getting into the swing of things with gusto, having just seen the same new show twice in three days. Specifically, the dress rehearsal and preview premiere of Evelyne de la Cheneliere’s STRAWBERRIES IN JANUARY at the GCTC. I was especially giddy to have been able to bring two of my fellow OSSD students to the dress, and happily they seemed to like it just as much as I did.
Right away there’s a smokin’ cool retro-style set on the stage (Robin Fisher shoutout!), adorned with posters for some of the great rom-coms of all time. Comparing your show straightaway to the likes of SOME LIKE IT HOT? A bold move, GCTC. But you know who else was bold, once upon a time? A young man named James Tiberius Kirk, that’s who.
STRAWBERRIES is billed as a ‘fizzy, delightful comedy’, and that’s a pretty sharp descriptor. Directed with a smooth tough by GCTC King Lise Ann Johnson, and stacked with a sweet cast: Pierre Simpson, and Annie Lefebvre, who I can’t believe I’ve never seen in anything before now. I know, right? I’m a fucking awful person, you’re so right for thinking that about me! But at least I’m familiar with the other pair, namely John ‘Killer’ Koensgen and Sarah McVie, who among other awesomeness co-starred together in last year’s Summer Fling production of EDUCATING RITA. It’s a Rita-Union!
…Okay, wait, I can do better. Don’t leave yet.
The play is structured around Simpson’s Francois, a young coffee shop underachiever in the constant act of rewriting his life into a more pleasing movie version of itself. In fact, most of the characters spend an inordinate amount of time lying to themselves and others…not out of malice, so much as not having yet figured out anything better. Francois is nuts about flaky Sophie, who Sarah McVie brings to hilarious life. She’s sharp, self-centered, a little delusional and absolutely adorable. Her Far Side moment is pure gold.
Koensgen plays Robert, a French Lit Professor with some rather open contempt for his students (his rant to them is the first Oscar moment in Ottawa Theatre for 2011), a shallow-sounding approach to relationships, and some secrets of his own. One of them centers around Lea, a spirited Innkeeper he has a chance encounter with, and who later makes her own unintentional impact on everyone’s lives. Played with love and honesty by Lefebvre, Lea is totally the moral heart of STRAWBERRIES. Her scenes are touching , funny, and a little bit painful. It’s really quite marvelous to watch.
All of this is put together smartly by Johnson…the translation by playwright Morwyn Brebner is crisp and funny, and Cheneliere’s wicked humour shines through. And can I just take a moment to point out the lighting by GCTC mainstay (and awesomely named) Jock Munro? I’ve seen his work a dozen times, and he’s spot on every single time, and I never mention him, and shame on me. So here’s to you, Jocko. You do great work, you know that? It’s appreciated.
Yes, STRAWBERRIES IN JANUARY is fizzy, and delightful, and romantic, all of that. It’s a perfect show for right now, give ya all those warm fuzzies that nature otherwise is being a little stingy with. Personally, I’m happy I managed to sneak it in before UNDERCURRENTS gets underway…which would be tonite, for those of you not paying attention. I’ll be at class, but I’m catching shows on both Thursdays and Saturdays of the festival, so I hopefully will see some of you out there. And at everything ELSE that’s going on very soon, but more on that later. Peace, love and soul,
The Visitor (and Winston)