BWW Review: ALMOST, MAINE at Commonwealth Theatre Center
In his program notes for this production, director Charlie Sexton states, "Sometimes we need a night of theatre where pretense, deep subtext and the desire to change the world is stripped away..." While I can understand how John Cariani's play fits the bill, I think there is still a few moments that speak to the darker complications of human relationships, even if it is charm that carries the day.
Each of the eight scenes and Prologue is two characters discovering some new and often unexpected dimension. The location is Almost, Maine, a small community that earns its name from never having ever organized itself enough to become a town. That sense of being not quite fully formed is a tidy metaphor for the awkward and organic expressions of romantic longing that occur repeatedly. Pete (Oliver Cox) and Ginette (Brooklyn Durs) occupy both the closest and furthest distance between two people. It is love at first sight for East (Field Oldham) when he finds a young woman (Samantha Bliss) camping on his property to observe the Northern Lights. Sandrine (Cicely Warren) runs into an ex (Roscoe Lindsay Bruns) in a bar during her bachelorette party, an awkward scenario that ends a note of hope. Steve (Cox again) believes he is incapable of feeling pain until he meets Marvalyn (Alexandra Polur Gold).
Randy and Chad (Lindsay-Bruns & Oldham) explore the slender separation between friendship and love in an absurd slapstick display that shows how casually we might stand in the way of our own happiness. Gayle (Bliss) and Lendall swap the baggage of a relationship that is nearly at its expiration date until a sweet admission brings things into focus.
All of which pretty much goes down easily with a spoonful of gentle humor and humanity, but when Hope (Durs) arrives at the door of a man (Cox) looking for a lost love, Cariani also provides an important bittersweet contrast to show that all love stories don't have a happy ending.
Durs and Cox play the stillness and pregnant pauses of that scene with delicacy, and Mr. Sexton guides his able ensemble through the alternately sweet and mournful tone of the piece to very good effect. Save for a couple of more obvious moments of broader comedy, all of the actors seem to understand that less is more. We embrace the cliché that good acting is chewing through meaty dialogue and playing big emotions, but allowing a feeling to occur in the empty spaces is also important.
The production design follows that clue with simple but evocative scenic background painted by Gerald Kean, modulated lighting by Jacob Riche that makes every scene feel like a dark Maine evening broken up by the Northern Lights, and Lindsay Chamberlin outfits everyone in appropriate winter clothes, including some authentic looking thermal underwear. Almost nothing about the design work is ever showy, which is right for this material.
Being a big fan of the band, I was struck by how the use of classic NRBQ songs from their back catalog made for such an effective soundtrack. I happen to know that Mr. Sexton is a huge fan as well, and while it may be something of an indulgence on his part, it worked very well as both transition and context for each scene.
Almost, Maine breezes by - the first act is barely more than 40 minutes in length, but some of the finer observations will linger in your memory longer than you expect, and it is a perfect play for a cold January night.
January 17, 18, 19, 24, 25, & 26 @ 8:00 pm
January 19 & 26 @ 2:00 pm
Nancy Sexton Stage
Commonwealth Theatre Center
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40204