With Valentine's Day just around the corner, Arts in Motion's delightful production of the romantic comedy “Almost, Maine” makes for an ideal night out.
Written by playwright John Cariani, “Almost, Maine,” which opens Friday, Feb. 5, at the Leura Hill Eastman Performing Arts at Fryeburg Academy in Fryeburg, Maine, is a series of nine offbeat stories of love. The show was first staged at the Portland Stage in 2004 where it went onto become the theater's most successful show. A well-received run off-Broadway followed.
In its original staging, four actors played all 19 roles in the show, but director Mary Bastoni-Rebmann decided to cast each role individually allowing for a diverse showcase of local talent both young and old.
The show is set in a fictional town in Maine, and there are things that will ring true for people who live in Northern New England. For example, in a very funny scene, a couple of snowmobile buddies (Rob Clark and Katrina Carus) have a lot of layers to strip off before they can take their relationship to the next level. For the most part, though, the play is dealing with universal themes and ideas and mines its humor and pathos from there.
Cariani's warm and witty script features many scenes involving high concept ideas. In “Her Heart” a woman (Beth Scrimeger) literally carries her broken heart in a paper bag. In “Getting It Back” a spurned girlfriend (Brooke Sanderson) attempts to return her love to her boyfriend (Zach Whitley) in several giant bags. “This Hurts” features a character (Jake Dunham) who can't feel pain. In another scene characters literally fall in love with each other.
On the page, these ideas may seem too abstract to work, but on stage they work quite well thanks to Cariani's deft writing and Bastoni-Rebmann's light direction, which brings out the best in her cast. The actors get the correct mood of lighthearted whimsy with an occasional undercurrent of pain and uncertainty.
Each scene follows a similar arch, whether it is about finding or losing love, that ends with an “aha moment” that puts a button on the scene. For the most part this formula is effective and charming, but at least in one case the writing is too clever for its own good.
Cariani does get so much right, though. The prologue featuring two young lovers (David Fulton and Kelsey Lildejahl) absolutely nails the awkwardness of early love. Lildejahl and Fulton perform it just right. It is a short scene but an excellent hook that sets the tone for the rest of show.
“Sad and Glad” captures a similar uneasiness when a lonely guy (Ged Owen) runs into his ex-girlfriend (Taylor Hill) at a bar. The scene is both funny and painful as the overlapping dialogue and uncomfortable exchanges will be all too familiar to most people in the audience. Owen and Hill, both playing older, pull the scene off nicely.
Another highlight is “This Hurts.” The exchanges between Dunham and Hanna Paven in this scene feel completely natural and are genuinely sweet. “The Story of Hope,” which features a woman (Pam McDonald) looking for the man who proposed to her, but with whom she never gave an answer, has a poignancy that sticks.
It is large cast that also includes Shelby Noble, Gage Crawford, Andrew Clark, Holly Fougere, Jason Fougere, Marshall Allen, Reid Clark and Erika McCarthy. I can't possibly praise everyone individually, but there isn't a weak person in the cast. Perhaps that's because the actor just had one scene to work on and polish until it shined.
Whether you have a loved one or you're a hardened cynical single, “Almost, Maine” should sufficiently warm your heart. Performance dates are Feb. 5, 6, 12 and 13 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees on Feb. 7 and 14 at 1 p.m. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students and senior citizens. For more information visit www.artsinmotiontheater.com.