Almost, Maine opened last night, presented by The George Washington University (GWU) Department of Dance & Theater, to an audience of animated students and adults alike. Almost, Maine written by John Cariani and directed by long-time GWU Theater Professor Elizabeth Kitsos-Kang was a real crowd-pleaser.
The play is set in a fictional town of Almost somewhere in northern Maine. It’s the dead of winter, and the seven-character cast is dressed for the season. A giant wooden stage that serves as a lodge, local bar (the moosepaddy) and house is a fitting set for the Maine winter. Behind the lodge is a backdrop of the night sky that shimmers, sparkles and will tickle your heart. At opportune moments, a dusting of snow drops in the background offering the audience ample time to gush.
Almost, Maine is split in two acts with four vignettes in each. The bite-size scenes are well timed with enough space to get a sense of the characters. The play is also bookended by a mini narrative that has a satisfying finish. Now what is the theme amidst the wintery setting? Well love, of course. The characters are constantly falling in and out of love, either lost in it, looking for it or hoping to be repaired. Even quite literally at times, as in “They Fell,” two best friends trip over their feet when they realize they have strong feelings for one another.
From the very first scene with East (Matt Nickley) and Glory (Siobhan McGowan) we get a sense of the absurdity of the situation and yet the humanness of the characters. In “Her Heart,” Glory has traveled to the remote corners of Maine in search of the Northern Lights so that she can have a meaningful goodbye to an ex-partner. She decides to camp in a stranger’s backyard, a Maine-like gesture she read about in a travel book. She also carries a paper bag full of broken pieces of her heart that the stranger-turned-consort, repairs for her.
Similar stories evolve throughout the production. In “Getting it Back” A saddened Gayle (Madeline Hendricks) appears at her boyfriend, Lendall’s (Andrew Flurer) door, claiming that she wants the love back that she gave him. She in turn deposits garbage bags in Lendall’s living room delivering her version of the love she gave to him. The tongue-in-cheek writing sends the audience into fits of laughter. Surprises lurk behind every corner. From shoes falling from the sky to unwinding romances it seems your heart may be high-wired within a matter of hours.
The fantastic part of the production is the actors sink into sadness just as much as they do humor. In the final scene, “Seeing the Thing,” Dave (Andrew Flurer) and Rhonda (Rachel Johnson) drove the audience into full-bodied laughter as they awkwardly shared their first kiss. At moments like this the comedic relief is palpable and entertaining. Kitsos-Kang developed her characters to be witty, earnest and accessible. With only seven actors total, playing a cast of nineteen characters, each of them double and even triple up, which brings a welcoming sense of familiarity on stage.
These aren’t ordinary love stories. The characters themselves may be ordinary, but the writing finds cheekiness even between the most painful of heartbreaks. The element of magical realism is also present in this production, true to Carini’s orginal vision.
Almost, Maine is as much an ode to the state of Maine with the characters drinking natural ice beer, wearing flannel garb and poking fun at more “southern” states like Vermont. The playwright himself is originally from Presque Isle, Maine. At times, the actors move in and out of Maine accents, a technique which could have come through even more, though their voices were loud, full and their lines well delivered.
This is an excellent way to spend an evening simultaneously supporting local college theater. The actors are highly energetic, charming and unabashedly themselves. There is a strong sense of commitment to the production and an assurance that the actors are engaged and inspired by Carini’s writing.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, with a 10-minute intermission.
Almost, Maine plays tonight and Saturday at 7:30 PM, with a closing matinee on Sunday at 2:00 PM at The Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre – 800 21st Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.