Love and Laughter Abound in TheatreWorks' 'Almost, Maine'
It can get pretty blustery throughout the deep winters in Maine, but romance—of the happily-ever-after and not so happily-ever-after variety—seems as abundant as the sparkling stars over the mythical town of Almost in actor-turned-playwright John Cariani’s warm romantic comedy, “Almost, Maine.”
Set on a frigid, clear, surreal Friday night under the otherworldly illumination of the Northern Lights in and around Almost, the playwright creatively explores the mysteries of the human heart with laughter, heartbreak and hope through a series of vignettes. All is not well for everyone in Almost, but they share their wistful charm, quirky humor and bracing sense of hopefulness in a season when hope may seem far on the horizon for some and an afterthought for others.
The citizens of Almost never really got around to organizing as a real town entitled to having its name on the state map. Likewise, the Almostonians we meet throughout the evening haven’t gotten around to sorting out and expressing their romantic yearnings. So, as they find themselves falling in and out of love—in unexpected and often hilarious ways—we don’t experience eloquent, poetic interchanges or declarations of love. Rather, there are emotionally fraught silences that punctuate what they say as hearts break, love is lost, found and confounded. What we see is how time heals all wounds and hearts mend—almost—in what can be considered an enchanting midwinter night’s dream.
The New York Times noted in 2006 that “Almost, Maine,” is “...a whimsical approach to the joys and perils of romance. Magical happenings bloom beneath the snowdrifts.” And bloom they do under the direction of TheatreWorks president Glenn R. Couture and Robin Frome and a talented cast of eight, who depict multiple characters in episodes that offer glimpses into the lives of Almost’s residents.
For some folks in Almost, a kiss can be epic with equally monumental consequences, perhaps requiring a sizeable dose of courage, as is evident in the vignettes, “Seeing the Thing,” and the “Brokeback Mountain”-esque “They Fell.”
In other episodes, hearts are broken (“Sad and Glad,” “Story of Hope”), or broken and mended—quite literally in “Her Heart.” In the quirky spirit of romance, there is an oddity or two—imagine a woman packing up the love she received over the years in bags that she returns to her commitment-phobic boyfriend like an unwanted gift in “Getting It Back.” A sadder sense of eccentricity arises in a story revolving around an impossibly misplaced boot in “Where It Went,” the missing shoe representing the misplaced love in a marriage.
Prefer something a little lighter? Try “This Hurts,” about a man who cannot feel pain and a woman who, perhaps, experiences a bit too much of it; or the loving fun of “Prologue,” “Interlogue” and “Epilogue,” that provides much humor while providing the production a solid beginning, middle and end.
Sure, it all sounds a little hokey and disconnected, and there is an episode here or there that is a tad predictable. But there remains a sense of authenticity to these stories that keeps them from becoming too quaint and sickeningly sweet. The stories are funny, surreal, otherworldly and some downright sad, but, in the end, it’s all quite magical, especially under the enchantment of the Northern Lights.
The stories also present a challenge for the eight actors—Christopher Smith, Kelly McMurray, Michael Ritts, Robyn Maitland, Adrienne Marra Brown, Michael Wright, David Martin and Stacy-Lee Erickson—who are tasked with portraying the 19 characters who populate this mythical town as they discover the magic and mystery of love. Fortunately for the audience, Christmas has come early in New Milford, as each and every one of the actors—many of them making their TheatreWorks debut—commands the spotlight with nary a misstep.
The only real “complaint” a viewer could register is the 15-minute intermission that breaks the momentum of the first act as it transitions to the second. Still, the audience feels as if it is in Maine—minus the chill—with a set designed to look like a wooded terrain blanketed in snow, a vibrant, Northern Lights-lit sky and the smell of pine trees in the air—all the brainchild of Mr. Couture, who also handled set design.
It may be cold in Almost, but its love-starved inhabitants sure are a warm bunch to spend an evening with. Love is, after all, blooming for them, and we can all use a bit of that this time of year.