By John Cariani
Directed by J.R. Stuart
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright 2013 by Keith Waits, all rights reserved.
Almost, Maine is a community that is not quite a town (because it is not organized enough); but it is also a state of being. It is given form by a series of characters sharing a commonality of tentativeness, a penchant for missing opportunities to form more meaningful human connections because they failed to act.
With its episodic structure and ability to be played by a small cast, it is a play that has found favor with humble community theatres seeking material that will easily engage the audience. It is often viewed as lightweight fare, yet in the right hands the sometimes very broad comedy also speaks to deeper human concerns of love, loss and regret. This production at St. Marks stage is fortunate to be in the capable hands of director J.R. Stuart.
Much is made of the far northern latitude and the visibility of the famed Northern Lights. The wide open sky and the viewing of stars, shooting and otherwise, are also given attention, setting up a dreamy, surreal edge to the scenes that is reminiscent of Magic Realism. Various combinations of men and women fall in love, or grieve for the end of a relationship, or struggle with the complexities of love, mostly presented with humor and occasionally a small degree of pathos. Several allusions to the weight of emotions reinforce the theme.
The performance space at St. Marks, a small chapel in the front of the facility, boasts newly installed lighting that allows some simple but effective visual evocation of the atmosphere. The time and place remain constant, with each scene being designated as taking place at 9:00 p.m. on a winter’s eve. The minimalist settings help focus the audience on the characters and their unique, eccentric interactions, which, in turn, connect with the audience.
The small ensemble of four does good work. Richie Goff continues to fulfill the promise of his strong performances in Dog Sees God and Reefer Madness earlier in the season. Nick Duett emerges from supporting roles with CenterStage and Pandora to deliver very confident and focused work. He is an actor who understands the importance of stillness, and never once does he overreach for effect. In contrast, Cathy Butler-Weathersby and Lauren McCombs both have moments wherein they do overplay, yet they do find the emotional truths of their scenes with unerring judgment. Ms. McCombs was too often frenetic in her energy, but when she slowed down, she found some lovely and tender moments and won the audience over with certain charm.
Mr. Stuart nudges the material through the whimsy into something a little more meaningful, skillfully emphasizing the common threads connecting the different scenes. Funny and full of charm, Almost, Maine is a thoughtful, romantic comedy with surprising resonance.
April 5-7, 12-15, 2013
St. Marks UCC Stage on Spring
222 East Spring Street
New Albany, IN 47150