It's ALMOST, MAINE for John Cariani!!!
Variety is the spice of life. And when you're an actor who can also write, life can truly be a wonderful journey. John Cariani, actor and now playwright, is the winner of the 2004 Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical as Motel in the acclaimed revival "Fiddler on the Roof" and also received a Tony nomination in 2004 for the same role. Rumour has it,he got the news of his Tony nomination "while lying in bed with a blanket covering his head." His current project as a playwright, "Almost, Maine", was inspired by his memories of growing up in Presque Isle. and had it's 2004 premiere at the Portland Stage Company.
Almost, Maine follows the "residents of a small, northern town [who] are falling in and out of love at an alarming rate. Love is discovered; hearts are broken and mended —almost — in this midwinter night's dream!," state press notes. The show features Todd Cerveris (Twentieth Century), Justin Hagan (Tartuffe), Miriam Shor (Hedwig and The Angry Inch) and Finnerty Steeves and is being directed by Gabriel Barre (Summer of '42, The Wild Party).
I got to ask John some questions recently about the show and life in Maine and his foray into playwrighting.
Q: You have been described as " the sweetest, most genuine guy that you could ever meet." by Michael Cerveris. How does that make you feel and how would you describe yourself?
A: I'll take sweet and genuine. Michael's not such a bad guy himself. I don't really think a lot about describing myself….hmm…I'm pretty persistent.
Q: Okay, now I have talked to a lot of actors who tell me that they sort of "fell into this acting thing." How about yourself...was it an accident or was this the direction you had in mind?
A: I did some plays in high school—always easy to get parts when you're a guy! Had some great, great people in charge of the drama club in high school. But I was mostly a music guy—clarinet player! But I do remember realizing one day that I loved plays more than I loved playing concertos…but I kind of ignored that realization. When I went to college (Amherst), I kind of fell into being a history major…and the big turning point came when I played in the pit orchestra for a production of SWEENEY TODD—and I spent most of the time watching the play instead of playing the score! And that's when I knew I had it bad for acting. A very dear friend of mine—great actress named Wendy Rich Stetson—was very active in the theater department at Amherst and I went to all the plays she was in, and it became very clear to me that what she was doing was something I wanted to be doing. After college, I did an acting internship at a regional theater (StageWest in Springfield, MA) for three years…and that was it. Came to New York, and…here we are.
Q: Now, you were nominated for a Tony Award for your work as Motel the Tailor in the revival of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF in 2004 and you won the Drama Desk Award for your performance. It must have been one exciting year for you, especially since it was also the premiere of Almost, Maine in Portland?
A: Actually—Michael Cerveris and I won the Outer Critics Circle Award. Then he won the Tony. Weird thing about those awards—neither of us got nominated for The Drama Desk!
Yeah…2004 was absolutely an excellent year. I think the highlight may have been the fact that Jesse Martin announced my Tony nomination! And taking the subway home from a luncheon with Marion Seldes. I find that I don't remember so much of what happened that year, though. The Broadway schedule is so tough, so relentless—there was almost no time to enjoy all the…stuff. Plus, it all happens so fast!
Regarding ALMOST, MAINE—I was so psyched about it—but also bummed, because I couldn't be in Portland (Maine) for rehearsals because of FIDDLER. So Gabe Barre, ALMOST, MAINE'S director, had me do all the rewrites via e-mail and phone messages. I was so lucky, though—I got to take a vacation from FIDDLER so I could be there for ALMOST, MAINE's tech week. Then the folks at FIDDLER were kind enough to let me go back for the opening a week later. So—my focus was pretty split for a while and I'm not very good at multi-tasking, so I was pretty tired, there, for a few weeks. And that's my biggest memory of 2004—being totally beat. Good kind of beat, though!