Review: ‘Almost, Maine’ at Greenbelt Arts Center

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Almost, Maine, by John Cariani explores the upside and downside of love as experienced by the residents of its mythical, titular town. Playing as almost a comedic version of Our Town, the contemporary-set Almost Maine, as executive directed by Bob Kleinberg (and with three scenes directed by Pamela Northrup, Wynne Kleinberg and Jason Kanow) at Greenbelt Arts Center (GAC), is a charming, Valentine’s Day delight.

Jenna Jones Paradis, Rob Allen, and Pamela Northrup in Almost, Maine. Photo by Kristofer Northrup.

With the northern lights as a backdrop, Almost, Maine, follows several characters experiencing the elusive emotion that is love through nine scenes. As Kleinberg wrote in his Director’s Notes: “ …love itself is really not a feeling; it’s the ‘falling’ that is really the emotion – the excitement, the delight, the dizziness, yes, even the fear – that gets triggered when we first meet that certain someone.” It’s no wonder Almost, Maine is the most produced play in North American high schools.

One of the more hopeful stories in the show was that of geeky Pete, played with a veneer of shyness by Rob Allen, and his love target Ginette, played by Christine Smith. Allen, who was nominated for a WATCH award for his role as Banjo in The Man Who Came to Dinner at Rockville Little Theatre, infused his character with love shyness.

In the scene entitled “Her Heart,” the magnificent Ryan Willis (previously seen at GAC in A Raisin in the Sun), as a repairman named East, encountered a woman in his backyard, Glory, observing the northern lights. From there, revelations about Glory’s past hilariously ensued. Jenna Jones Paradis fantastically made Glory a far-out, unlikely love choice for East.

Allen played love-sick Jimmy, who met an old flame in a restaurant, Sandrine, portrayed by Northrup, in the scene entitled “Sad and Glad.” I loved Paradis’ waitress; she made the character stand out through her vocal variety and mannerisms.

The scene “This Hurts” featured Kanow (seen previously at GAC in Bad Jews) as Steve, a man who can’t feel physical pain. Taking place in a laundry room, the scene explores how much opening one’s self up to a romantic relationship can expose them to emotional, and in this case, physical pain. Smith played the already unhappily-coupled Marvalyn with a degree of love-weariness.

Physical red bags were used to represent the love inherent in the on-life support relationship between Gayle and Lendall, played by Emma Earnest and Win Britt, in the scene “Getting It Back.”

Ryan Willis and Jason Kanow in Almost, Maine. Photo by Kristofer Northrup.

Northrup directed (all scenes besides the ones directed by Northrup, Wynne Kleinberg and Kanow were directed by Bob Kleinberg) the scene “They Fell,” which explored the growing romantic tension between two men, Randy and Chad, played by Kanow and Willis. Wynne Kleinberg expertly directed the feuding, distant couple in the scene “Where It Went.” Britt was fantastic as the husband, Phil. Paradis effectively portrayed the long-suffering of her character Marci.

“Story of Hope,” which featured an unnamed man and woman, played by Northrup and Kanow, was heartbreaking and showed what happens when you wait too long to say “I love you.” Kanow directed “Seeing the Thing,” which featured Earnest as the love-agnostic Rhonda and Willis as the on-the-make Dave. Willis and Earnest played off each other amazingly well.

Kleinberg did a spectacular job with set design, I loved his rolling scenery wagon, which offered two different facades for two different scenes. The set dressing, by Wynne Kleinberg and Smith, included wall-to-ceiling posts made up to look like trees and an upstage scrim on the proscenium set dressed to look like a starry night sky.

I loved Steve Beitzell and Tom Gill’s lights execution, especially the faint, fade up of lights that indicated scene changes. Costume Coordinator Gayle Negri gave the cast a variety of winter-worthy clothes to wear. Almost, Maine is an emotional journey down the road of love, great for couples looking for a thought-provoking evening of theater.

Running Time: Two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.

Almost, Maine plays through February 17, 2018, at Greenbelt Arts Center, 123 Centerway, Greenbelt, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 441-8700, or purchase them online.