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BWW Reviews: Under the Northern Lights of ALMOST, MAINE

The Westmont Department of Theatre's production of John Cariani's Almost, Maine is friendly and unpretentious enough to resonate warmth with even the most cynical viewers. On a cold night in the unincorporated county of Almost, Maine, a town that isn't quite a town because the denizens "never got organized," a series of vignettes shows residents of this nowhere hamlet experiencing the purity and pain of love gained, unrequited, and lost; the slow fade of tenderness gone awry; and the sudden, stunning realization of affection. Almost, Maine is light theatrical fare that allows the theatre department's students to experience the joys of performance without the pressure of delving too deeply into the darker waters of the human psyche. Those disturbing aspects of humanity are forgotten beneath the frozen surface of the stage; an ice patch for characters to skate, slip, and slide through their relationship evolutions.

Almost, Maine is a winterscape of white gauzy drapes-tranquil banks of snowy atmosphere that glow with colorful reflections of the aurora borealis. Physical representations of love prevail throughout the vignettes: Glory (Elaine Pazaski) carries the pieces of her broken heart, a puzzle of guilt and melancholy, in a paper bag as she searches for signs of her deceased husband's transcendence in the borealis illumination over Almost; Gayle (Courtey Schwass) brings stuffed pink trash bags to her boyfriend's house-here's all the love you gave me, she says while tossing the bags at his feet, I don't need it anymore, so I'm giving it back; a couple in the throes of an imploding marriage search for reasons to stay together-and a lost shoe that finally, after the heartbreaking question-what are we doing?-is finally uttered, falls from the sky. These symbolic manifestations utilize the theatrical capabilities of metaphoric storytelling in a whimsical fashion: Almost, Maine is a place almost like real life, but with serendipity and magical realism.

Generally accentuated in student theatre is the freshness of neophyte performers navigating the strange sensations involved in character creation and dramatic execution. Almost, Maine was a smart choice for Westmost: the characters exude an innocent, wide-eyed charm that was perpetuated believably by the cast. The tendency amongst the female performers towards frantic fast-talking and character development that lacked grounding seemed a trait of inexperience rather than lack of depth, but I'd have liked to have seen some scenes performed at a slower pace. There was ample opportunity for Glory to take time to search for herself in the night sky while simultaneously watching for the proxy of her husband in the borealis. Gayle's ultimatum could have fallen with greater heaviness, one that corresponded to the weight of the discarded trash bags full of "love."

Almost, Maine presents a simpler, kinder world in which sadness runs deep enough to make an impression, but in which the regret of romance lost or unrequited has the capacity to be mended by the gentle reassembly of a shattered heart. There are plenty of plays that explore the deep recesses of humanity's capacity to destroy and peoples' profound ability to exist in states of extreme damage. Almost, Maine is, instead, about the simplicity of realizing exactly what you need for happiness, and the buoyancy of spirit that persists when those modest goals-to be loved, to be seen-are achieved in small, intimate ways. That exhilaration in the shared experience of mutual affection is available in Almost, even if it was once lost or unrealized. Colorful, charming, and accessible, the Westmost Department of Theatre presents a sweet dessert of drama under the northern lights that delivers moments of poignancy, humor, and discovery.

Almost, Maine
Directed by Mitchell Thomas
Set Design by Yuri Okahana

What's Next at Westmont? Look for:

An Evening of One-Act Opera Classics
Directed by John Blondell
January 30-February 1

The Nina Variations
Directed by Brynn Mitchell
February 6-7

The Insect Comedy or The World We Live In
Directed by John Blondell
February 27-28, March 5-7

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From This Author - Maggie Yates

Writer, editor, and arts critic based in Santa Barbara, California. Studied theater at UC Berkeley and writing at the read more about this author)

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