- Charming and romantic, “Almost, Maine” is refreshing, diverting, and highly theatrical.
- John Cariani’s play rediscovers the classic and simple essence of human emotion: love, with no pretense to perfection.
Love binds everything together perfectly when it’s true. And that can also be said about John Cariani’s play, Almost, Maine. In this play, now playing at Palm Beach Dramaworks until January 30, the love theme is packaged in a charming and romantic collection of stories, or nine vignettes, that will leave you thinking about love in a fresh, new way.
Cariani’s genius is found in the simplicity of the play’s central theme. Love is a classical subject that has proven to be irresistible. It has been written about in countless plays, books, novellas, movies, songs, and teleplays. And even though many of us gloss over the topic in our favorite stories, it still manages to play a pivotal role in keeping you guessing whether you are a romantic at heart after all. Men, beware! In the 120 minutes that this play lasts, there’s a big chance your heart will soften, or at the very least, contract.
Almost, Maine premiered at the Portland Stage Company in Portland, Maine in 2004, where it was reported to have broken box office records and gained fantastic critical acclaim. Still today, the play continues to attract audiences throughout the country in many regional theatres.
The production’s attraction is that it’s as much a play as a character in a play. In this story, Almost is a mythical almost-town, as the residents never got around to getting it organized. So, it’s just . . . almost. The play tells the stories of 19 characters who are open, kind, and humorous. Their tales are happening at the same time, one cold, clear Friday night in the middle of winter between 8:50 PM and 9:02 PM, exactly. As the northern lights hover in the sky above, something mystical begins to happen in that 12-minute time frame, and the residents of Almost find themselves falling in love, or out of love, in the strangest ways. Found love. Lost love. Hearts broken. Unrequired love. For the people of Almost, Maine, life will never be the same again.
This piece falls under the heading of magical realism. Everything is real except for the moment when it isn’t. It uses the external universe, in this case, the mystic energy of the aurora borealis, which acts as a character unto itself, to push things in this very unique period of time—a single night in the town of Almost, Maine. In the loosely connected vignettes, we see something is going on in the universe that is sparking these things. What is it? Who and what’s causing it? That’s part of the play’s unresolved plot’s charm.
Director, J. Barry Lewis read the play when it was produced in 2004 and was curious to see how it was done in so many theatres around the country. “There was something there that the audience was truly picking up and responding to,” said Lewis, who was fascinated about how to make that work and bring it forward to the Palm Beach Dramaworks stage. “It is a play that when Bill [Artistic Director William Hayes] was looking at the season, it was almost like a Valentine’s Day card that we wanted to give the audience. And perhaps this is why we are in the theater, to love each other, to love the idea of theater. This play had a lot of power behind it.”
In PBD’s production of Almost, Maine, the show is conceived with only four actors. However, other shows around the country have opted to use all 19 characters played by 19 different actors. Lewis’s idea was to have four individuals playing all the characters.
Looking at South Florida’s strong performers, he found a talented ensemble of Irene Adjan, Niki Fridh, Brandon Morris, and Shane Tanner playing all the characters. They all have that kind of depth, knowing how to create not one character, but five or six different characters in very varied situations, from the slightly comedic and absurd to the more intense and dramatic. It’s definitely a wide range of acting chops that they perform.
The play was originally slated to start on January 14, exactly a month before Valentine’s Day. A great play for the winter season. With a week’s delay in production, the play is still a joyous experience of discovery and entertainment.
It will be interesting to also explore the success of Cariani’s play-to-book adaptation of the same name. His mastery of narrative cannot be faulted. The book gives details in the language of language, while the live narrative transcends the gap between what’s on the page and what’s on stage, in a way that is most human.
Regardless of whether you read it or watch it, what’s so fascinating about Almost, Maine’s narrative is that it has the ability to grab and connect its audience with that universal language of love. In the play, it adds to the theatrical experience. What you’ll find is that connection doesn’t stop there at the foot of the stage. It’s what brings the audience member and the actors together as a unit. It’s awesome when you get a chance to watch an audience respond as you do in this play. I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again. Palm Beach Dramaworks has a magnificent space, where the audience and the actors are so intimately close to what is happening, and that theatrical experience is unlike any other. The ability to talk and impact is very strong. And this is definitely the kind of show to experience that.
Almost, Maine is playing at Palm Beach Dramaworks until January 30, 2022. To buy tickets, go to palmbeachdramaworks.org or call their box office at (561) 514-4042 ext. 2. PBDW is located at 201 Clematis Street, West Palm Beach.
John Cariani’s play, “Almost, Maine” proves irresistible