BWW Reviews: Oyster Mill's ALMOST, MAINE is Just About, Perfect
ALMOST, MAINE seems almost unknown, which is unusual for a play so frequently produced. Opening Off-Broadway at the Daryl Roth Theatre in 2005, after its premiere at - quelle surprise - Portland (Maine) Stage Company, it's had over 2000 productions in the United States since then. While author John Cariani is probably best known to many as a long-time background cast member of "Law & Order," he's been writing for years, though ALMOST, MAINE may be almost his only recognized work. Although the title is allegedly explained in the play, it apparently really comes from director Gabe Barre, who, upon reading together several of Cariani's vignettes about The Edges of relationships, looked at Cariani and said, "There's a play here. Almost."
Directed by Chris Krahulec, who's given it some very nice timing, it's on stage at Oyster Mill Playhouse and is one of the best pieces of work there recently. It would be too easy, and too vague, to say that the play is about relationships - all drama is, in one form or another. It's about the "almosts" of life and relationships - almost in love, almost ready to break up, almost ready to commit, almost getting engaged - and about how we respond to those "almosts". It's also about walking - blindly, into relationships; away from relationships; into the unknown. The show is a series of nine vignettes on those themes, framed, charmingly, by the first one, which recurs throughout the show to follow up on its opening - possibly the longest "walk" of the entire play.
The vignettes include the prologue, as mentioned, which is on the question of just how close two people can be, regardless of distance, as well as some other notable short pieces. Those latter include "Her Heart," not surprisingly on the subject of heartbreaks (and how to put together a broken heart); "They Fell," on bromance, and "Story of Hope," perhaps the most poignant piece, which - though how it will play out becomes obvious to the audience quite quickly - is the real heartache of the show, a reflection on relationship timing gone utterly wrong. The last full piece, "Seeing the Thing," is not so deep as some of the others, but helps to end the show on an optimistic upswing. Krahulec keeps the show tight, and, equally importantly, keeps it light. A few of the pieces, if mishandled, would turn into tragedy rather than comedy, and the director's come through.
Despite the size of the cast, the show is primarily two-hand vignettes. Notable performances include David Solaris as Pete, the young man in the prologue (and at other moments in the show) who tries to explain closeness through the circumference of a snowball, and Gordon Einhorn as the man who listens to a woman pour her heart out on his doorstep. Marte Engel is the delightful frequently recurring Marvalynn, whose life seems to intertwine with everyone else's in the almost-town of Almost. JoNathan Morgan, last seen in Oyster Mill's MOON OVER THE BREWERY as the postman, Warren, is equally engaging here as a man who's convinced he can't feel physical pain. With Engel, he's in what may be the show's very most amusing sequence.
This is exactly the sort of play for which Oyster Mill is well-equipped - perhaps more so than almost any other theatre in the region. Its small scale makes the on-stage intimacy (or lack thereof) vivid, bringing it to full audience attention. It's the best of the community stages for a two-hand or a four-hand show, where a larger stage might swallow up the cast and a larger hall make it harder for the audience to see the small-scale action of the vignettes. (However, Oyster Mill should consider that the opposite is also true - this is not the best house, physically, for very large-scale productions.)
On stage through August 25, at Oyster Mill Playhouse in Camp Hill. Call 717-737-6768 or visit www.oystermill.com for tickets.
Photo credit: Emily Woodford