Marli Scharlin’s ’16 production of Almost, Maine, coming to the PW downspace this weekend, is truly an ensemble show. There are no lead roles, but rather a cast of supporting characters each seamlessly stabilizing and carrying the next in toy-like fashion, such that if one performance fell, so would the show (yes, that is a Jenga metaphor, and a well-constructed one at that. Pun intended.) Luckily, no performers fell. Well, not figuratively. Quite literally, several characters fall.
The play itself is made up of a series of two-person scenes, each featuring distinct characters and narratives, but coexisting in the same dreamlike space, and geographic location that is a small town in Maine. Well, ‘almost’ Maine. Technically, a town categorized as uncharted territory within the borders of Maine. More broadly, the show exists somewhere between reality and the supernatural. It looks like reality, and sounds like reality, but a reality where love and hearts are carried in bags, and bars have free drink specials for people who are sad. It’s not quite reality, but it’s close — ‘almost,’ reality if you will.
Stella Mensa ’17 and Brian Semel ’16 (a fellow BlogDHer) bookend the show as a young couple in the beginning stages of love. Their bulky sweaters and shivering body language, along with the snow-speckled stage give the audience the first inclination that it is winter. Their distraction with each other as they dissect their physical and emotional closeness, foreshadows the play’s coming themes — proximity, space, timing, feeling, and the many stages of a relationship.
Zoe Thompson ’15 was practically born to play the youthfully exuberant, and charmingly literal, Hope, who camps out in a stranger’s yard in hopes of seeing the Northern lights. Canning Robb ’17 makes a brief but memorable appearance in the second act, alongside Christopher Thompson ’15, as half of a married couple
celebrating suffering through their anniversary. Emily Rudder ’17 and Derek Mesman-Hallman ’16 provide the show’s comedic pinnacle as long-time friends, turned lovers following the unveiling of a “magic eye” painting.
Almost, Maine the show, as written by John Cariani, runs the risk of being saccharin, overwrought, and occasionally on-the-nose (in a scene exploring geography and direction, two characters are named East and Wes). But Scharlin’s direction is none of these things. Everything from the set to the costumes to the performances themselves are consistently subtle and real enough to account for any lack of subtlety or realness in the script. Griffin Thompson ’16 and Sarah Black’s ’16 exploration of learned vs. felt pain, Kieran Barry ’16 and Peter Bowden’s ’16 portrayal of two friends “falling” in love, and Marion Wellington ’16 and Christopher Thompson’s ’15 transformative breakup-turned-engagement, ground the play and offer a sense of honesty to the audience that cuts through the plays-on-words, and knowing cuteness.
The minimalist set (designed by Nick Healy ’17) consists of merely a basic wooden house frame, sparse furniture, and hanging lights that frame the house like stars, and yet somehow manages to bring to life a far more vivid world than meets the eye. Each scene comes vibrantly to live despite their sparse contexts. Thanks to excellent costumes (Dylan Platt ’16), props (Wendy Ginsburg ’15), and lights (Jacob Goldberg ’17), within seconds of the play’s opening, the audience is transported to the semi-fantastical world of small-town Maine in the winter. Well, ‘almost’ Maine.
Almost, Maine opens Friday September 19th and runs through September 22nd. Tickets can be found here or at the PW box office an hour before each performance.
Images via and Danielle Perelman ’17.