BWW Reviews: Love Is In The Frosty Air of ALMOST, MAINE
With its snowcapped setting and quietly quirky and plainspokenly poetic characters, the original 2006 Off-Broadway production of John Cariani's Almost, Maine certainly resembled the then somewhat recent hit TV series Northern Exposure and the popular indie film, Fargo.
Its initial visit to Manhattan was brief, but Cariani's collection of humorous vignettes about warm hearts in a chilly climate has become an enormously popular regional selection, produced by over 2,000 theatre companies in the United States alone.
Director Jack Cummings III's new Transport Group mounting doesn't play as off-beat deadpan as the original, but the gently charming script and loveably sincere ensemble cast provide an adorable evening of snow-melting delight.
Actually, I take that back. The snow doesn't melt on the floor of The Gym at Judson because designer Sandra Goldmark has caked it with such a thick layer of the white stuff that audience members are cautioned to be careful not to slip on the way to their seats.
It's date night in the little township of Almost, situated in the uppermost reaches of Maine. Maybe it's the Northern Lights working their magic, but love is sweeping the moose country on this particularly starry evening and Cariani offers peaks into moments of joy, heartache and metaphysical whimsy.
Some of the situations seem perfectly realistic, like when a pair of girlfriends quaff down drinks at The Moose Paddy while comparing dating war stories, a long-forgotten love returns to answer a long-ago proposal or when a woman who has never been kissed reacts in confused horror when her best bud wants to take their relationship a step further.
But Almost is a place where people who fall in love sometimes do so quite literally (and hilariously), where giving your love to another could require them to have extra storage space (You have to see it.) and where a sweetheart might travel as far away from her beau as she can get just to be closer to him than ever.
The wonderful ensemble includes the playwright, whose innocent mug exudes plenty of open-hearted pathos. Kevin Isola is quietly steady in his more mature male roles and Kelly McAndrew exudes apple-cheeked sweetness.
Then there's the versatile Obie-winner Donna Lynne Champlin, who takes absurd moments like giddily removing countless layers of clothing for a first sexual encounter and grounds them into the same kind of reality as when she's a widow finding her own way to heal from her loss.
It's wicked romantic and funny, ayuh.